Asks the artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet to resign after complaints
The artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet is set to step down, according to several former dancers, after multiple complaints of inappropriate behavior were made against her ballet master husband.
A labor lawyer and two former company dancers have raised concerns for the safety of the plaintiffs, who continue to work under the artistic direction of Patricia Barker, despite complaining about the conduct of their husband Michael Auer towards them.
TVNZ reported that Auer had been removed from his position as ballet master, but the company declined to confirm this.
“It’s time for them [both] go,” said Sandra Norman, a former dancer with the company in the 1980s.
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Michael Auer has trained dancers and is also the husband of the ballet’s artistic director, which past and present members say has made it difficult to speak up.
Barker brought Auer from the United States with her when she was named artistic director of the ballet company in 2017.
Initially, Auer was employed by the company on a specific technology project. But since 2019 he had been working as a guest ballet master. Auer has a background in software development as well as ballet.
Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni said she was “very disappointed” to hear the recent complaints of inappropriate behavior.
In an emailed statement, she said she had been assured that a “robust and proper process” had been carried out. “I am pleased that this matter is being taken seriously and urgently by RNZB, which has shown zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior in its organization.”
In an emailed statement, the company said its board of directors takes allegations of inappropriate behavior seriously, but will not comment publicly on individual employment matters.
“We want the RNZB culture to be inclusive, supportive and inspiring, and a place where all employees can thrive, and where great work is done and shared with the many communities we serve,” the executive director said. Lester McGrath.
When asked if a review would be carried out, McGrath said the company takes the welfare of dancers “extremely seriously” and is always working to improve the way it supports them.
Board chair Dame Kerry Prendergast said in a statement that Barker had the “full confidence” of the board.
According to company policies, gross misconduct is grounds for summary dismissal. Examples of behavior that constitutes gross misconduct include verbal or physical abuse, sexual harassment or any form of intimidation in the workplace, and corporate discredit.
Department of Culture and Heritage spokeswoman Emily Fabling said the department was aware of complaints about the behavior of the company, which receives around $5 million in government funding each year, and that he would continue to monitor the situation.
The company previously said Barker was “not involved” in Auer’s selection process, but his appointment as ballet master drew accusations of nepotism from the wider ballet world.
Former principal dancer Martin James, who was with the company in the 1980s, said he was very concerned about the organization and welfare of dancers under Barker. “I fear for their safety…those poor children,” he said in an interview from Australia, adding that he would support Barker’s resignation. “It does not work.”
James said news of the complaints was being discussed by the international ballet community. He blamed the company’s situation on its board, which has been criticized for not having enough members who intimately understand the rigors of working as a professional ballet dancer.
Labor lawyer Susan Hornsby-Geluk said the fact employees still had to work under Barker would have “absolutely a chilling effect” on their ability to file a complaint safely.
Barker’s relationship with Auer would have tainted the confidence plaintiffs would have to participate in the investigation and provide a candid account of what happened, given their fear of repercussions, she said.
But Barker can’t necessarily be held responsible for her partner’s conduct, and taking action against her because of it could amount to discrimination based on family status, Hornsby-Geluk said.
“This whole situation raises serious questions about the wisdom of hiring a husband-wife team in these roles, especially given the nature of the industry and how close they should be working together,” he said. she stated.
The former dancer Norman hailed the bravery of the complainants and said she would support a formal review of the situation. She also called on Barker to step down.
The company had been “reduced to scandals and appalling behavior” in recent years, she said. “[It’s] Totally wrong.”
A police spokesperson said they were unable to answer questions aimed at establishing whether specific individuals or organizations were or had been under investigation.