Earlier this year, the Korea National Ballet fired 28-year-old corps de ballet dancer Na Dae-han for travelling abroad during quarantine in late February. A statement in March read:
As a national troupe, we are sorry for causing trouble when Korea is in hard times facing Covid-19. Through this incident, the national ballet troupe will reform itself, enforcing strict discipline.
In mid-February, the company performed Swan Lake in the southeastern city of Daegu, and when a mass coronavirus breakout was reported there, the KNB ordered its members to self-isolate until 1 March and cancelled the rest of its tour.
However Na, who is a well-known face in the country, having appeared in a “TV romance reality show”, decided to go on a trip to Japan with his girlfriend and posted photos of their holiday on Instagram. Fellow Koreans were unsympathetic on social media, with comments such as, “don’t treat quarantine as a vacation”, “he certainly doesn’t deserve such a career when he can’t even do one basic thing as a citizen of this country” and “his career ends because of his own foolishness”.
He is the first dancer to be fired from the state-funded Korea National Ballet for inappropriate behaviour since it was founded in 1962. Two other company members were temporarily suspended for giving private lessons during quarantine.
The National Labour Relations Commission, however, has now pronounced it to be an “unfair dismissal”. While stating that Na was irresponsible for not complying with the company’s self-imposed quarantine instructions, it said that this was not a reason to fire him as he was not violating the government’s official self-quarantine rule. It added that the ballet company did not warn its members about the significance of disobeying self-quarantine regulations.
The Commission ordered the Korea National Ballet to reinstate Na, but the company objected, saying Na’s actions during the escalating Covid-19 situation had severely damaged the reputation of the state-run troupe and his dismissal was inevitable.
The dispute continues.