2 Dec 2016

Dancers ditch Royal New Zealand Ballet

5:41 pm on 2 December 2016

A investigation is under way over allegations of conflict between ballet dancers and the artistic director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The board has hired a faciliator to mend the relationship.

Ballet dancers (stock image).

Photo: 123RF

RNZ has learned that in the last year as many as 12 dancers and other staff have left the national ballet company, which receives $5.4 million in public funding.

Three or four left directly because of the way they were treated by Francesco Ventriglia, sources told RNZ.

Francesco Ventriglia

Francesco Ventriglia was appointed in 2014. Photo: Stephen A'Court

Mr Ventriglia was appointed artistic director in 2014. He is from MaggioDanza in Florence, Italy, where he was director.

Two weeks ago, he announced he would end his contract with the RNZB in June next year. He would stay on as guest choreographer to complete the company's production of Romeo and Juliet in August.

"I think New Zealand is a wonderful country and will look back on the three years I will have spent here with fondness. While I can see other opportunities on the horizon, for the immediate future I'm excited to be bringing you next year's productions and making plans for the 2018 season," he said.

The union representing ballet dancers approached the RNZB board in August after receiving multiple complaints from member dancers about Mr Ventriglia.

Union secretary, Wellington lawyer David Patten, detailed a breakdown in the relationship between some dancers and other staff and the artistic director.

"I had a number of dancers approach me over significant relationship difficulties with the artistic director. There has been a relationship breakdown", he said.

A former staff member told RNZ: "I had to leave my position due to a major disagreement regarding the way the new director was treating myself and the dancers. It took me a full year to try to recover from the pain of having left a company I love more than anything".

Another former employee, a dancer, said dancers were continuing to rehearse and perform while injured because they feared Mr Ventriglia's reaction.

The dancer also said that some dancers who had dedicated their lives to ballet had given up because of their experience with Mr Ventriglia and the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

After the ballet company board received the complaints, it instigated an independent investigation, which recommended that a facilitator be appointed to help repair relationships, RNZ has been told.

The head of another national dance organisation, Dance Aotearoa New Zealand chief executive Anton Carter, said he did not buy the argument that dancers had to be pushed to produce their best work.

"People sort of say, 'oh well, you have to be like this to get the best out of people', and I suppose I question whether that is really the case. Unreasonable behaviour is unreasonable behaviour."

The RNZB said an international search would begin shortly for a new artistic director.

RNZ has repeatedly approached Mr Ventriglia and the ballet company for a response, including board chair Candis Craven, but all have refused to comment.