Unions representing the dancers at Rome Opera Ballet have sent a letter to the directors of the Rome Opera House complaining about the “disrespectful” behaviour of the director of the ballet company, Eleonora Abbagnato, and her “attitude”. The Italian news agency Adnkronos printed the letter in full.
The company, which gave its last performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Caracalla Baths in Rome last night, was rehearsing Giuliano Peparini's version of the ballet on 25 July when Abbagnato used threatening language against some of the company: “No fucking way am I going to be renewing your contracts!” (I am translating from the Italian, of course). She also shouted, “Fuck off all of you!” accompanied by the Italian salute, the ‘umbrella' gesture which is a version of ‘giving someone the finger', a physical equivalent of her spoken words. Going against the theatre's ethical code, she also called the organisation “un teatro di merda” (a shitty theatre).
Many who work in the theatre world would probably, rightly or wrongly, find this behaviour in the norm, but after her explosion, the offended dancers called a meeting during which other complaints against the director emerged. The day after the event, Abbagnato apparently attempted to blame the dancers for her (I quote from the letter) “unspeakable outburst”, complaining of the “oppressive atmosphere” that she felt in the company, though the dancers said that this was the environment that she herself had created.
The letter went on to say that this was not an isolated incident and that her attitude was not constructive, often bad-mannered, and not suited to someone in her position. However, more than the swearing and her temperamental threats, it seems that the following accusation is more worrying: “Another, and no less serious problem is the Director's absence from the theatre resulting, more often than not, in her delegating the preparation of ballets to assistants who are often unprepared and who restage choreography using videos demonstrating, once again, a lack of attention to professional ethics and the questionable interpretation of her role.”
This is not ideal for the company, but as she still holds the position of Étoile at the Paris Opera Ballet, it is not surprising that she is not always in the theatre, or even in Italy, but that was obvious from the moment she was offered the contract in 2015, which certainly raised a few eyebrows at the time. Rome Opera announced in January that Abbagnato will remain in her post until 31 December 2021.
The company has few opportunities to dance each year: the next performance is mid-October, and the 2019-2020 season presents only five programmes with between five and ten performances of each title. The dancers, via the letter, ask for more opportunities to dance (therefore to limit the number of works with just a handful of dancers participating), and for more attention to be paid to their growth as dancers with the company's training and coaching. They also cite oddities, such as casting a retired dancer to play Don Quixote in the autumn instead of using a member of the company.
The letter from the unions finishes by asking for a change of direction in the way that the company is run with “a director suited to the prestige of the role, both from an artistic and a purely management point of view.”
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.
Such language is unbefitting of a person of such responsibility. The other grievances really need to be addressed. Sounds like a very unsupportive atmosphere for artists who have a very short career life. Why waste any time on nonsense!
From the sounds of things Abbagnato is not providing top quality performances to the audiences (based on her own assessment of her Corps being “shit”) so clearly her particular manner of abuse is not having any helpful results. It is sad that Italian ballet has been, in various companies, curtailed due to lack of funding and it is no help to ballet overall to have such an unpleasant reputation as seems to be the case at Rome. Politics overshadow all of this I am sure…
I’m sure politics has some place in the story, but shouting out impressicely in moments of frustration is something we all do – certainly, coming from management it isn’t ideal, but I’m sure there’s another side to the story.