An Employment Tribunal has ordered Teatro alla Scala to pay Sabina Galasso, a former ballerina with La Scala Ballet who retired in 2013, €61,000 in compensation as a victim of “discriminatory and oppressive” behaviour.
Thirty-two years ago she recalls an episode which was “a day of a great success, but perhaps also of my condemnation”. It was 1991 and the corps de ballet was waiting for rehearsals to resume. “We were working on the fourth act of Swan Lake,” she says, “when a voice reverberated around the dressing rooms, ‘Galasso and B. (another, unnamed, dancer) in the Cecchetti room, right away!’” The two dancers rushed to the Cecchetti rehearsal studio to find two trade union representatives and Rudolf Nureyev, who was in Milan to restage his version of the ballet. “I want these two girls to start studying for the main role right away,” he said.
When the time came for the ballet to go before the public, Nureyev was not in Milan as he was, by this time, already ill, and would die from AIDS in 1993. However, Galasso found herself excluded completely from the production, and was not even cast in smaller roles by the then director of the company, Giuseppe Carbone. This is one of the episodes recalled in the summing up in this week’s ruling where the judges wrote that Galasso, ‘whose talent had been recognised even by Nureyev’ who had ‘wanted her among his favourites’ was the victim of ‘discriminatory and oppressive’ behaviour in the following years, subjected to ‘very serious actions that indicate the existence of an unhealthy working environment and a total disregard for the effect that this could have on the employee’.
An important court document was a letter from Patricia Ruanne, ballerina and ballet master at the London Festival Ballet and at the Paris Opera (where she worked alongside Nureyev), who was director of La Scala Ballet from 1999 to 2000. In 2010 she wrote to the company’s senior maître Grigore Vintila: “I am very sorry to hear that Sabina has fallen into depression, although I can well understand how this could have happened. It is very difficult for me to understand how Carbone has the ability to influence the artistic decisions of successive directors and choreographers (and of course I have never been able to understand why he felt the need to destroy her career).
The creakingly slow Italian justice system first in 2017 and then in appeal in 2021, established that Galasso was prevented from ‘growing and trying her hand at more challenging roles’, that ‘on several occasions’ a role ‘was refused to her for reasons not related to her artistic qualities’, and that she was not given opportunities to ‘dance like the others’, as the then Indendant at La Scala, Carlo Fontana, told the director of the ballet company, Giuseppe Carbone, in the late 1990s. “An exhortation that was blatantly disregarded,” said the judges.
Another former ballerina, Bruna Radice, who also served as a union representative, recalled that period during a hearing. After the meeting with Fontana, she said that “[Carbone] had an angry reaction, and he said, ‘Now things will be a bit more difficult, she will have a tough time.’” The judges stated that while it was impossible to outline a single plan with persecutory intent, La Scala was to pay compensation for non-pecuniary damage and disability (linked to severe and prolonged depression) because it did not comply with the obligation to ‘protect the physical integrity and moral personality’ of the worker as contained in an article of the Civil Code.
La Scala has always defended itself in court, saying that the dancer has continued her career without suffering any discriminatory treatment, and in appeal it asked for the restitution of the initial compensation that was awarded following the first hearing. The dancer’s lawyers, however, brought to court a series of elements that made it possible to ascertain the damage, especially Ruanne’s letter and a statement from former principal dancer Michele Villanova who said that Galasso’s exclusion from the rehearsal lists or being replaced had ‘become almost a constant’.
From reporting by Gianni Santucci, Corriere della Scala
Giuseppe Carbone’s daughter, Beatrice Carbone, a soloist with La Scala’s ballet company, replied to the article in the Corriere della Sera reporting on the outcome of the court case, on her Facebook:
It is very difficult for me to understand how, evidently faced with a subjective interpretation of facts reported, and never having verified with those directly concerned, the Italian justice system has upheld this case, based on vague recollections conjured up by a dancer in her head and someone writing an article citing my father who has never been called to testify to explain to lawyers and judges that a director [of a company] has a contractual right to decide whether or not a dancer can dance certain roles, while remaining within the terms of their contract.
Certainly, it was difficult for the dancer in question, to understand how even the directors who came after my father continued not to allow her to dance the roles that she thought that she should have been given, and therefore the idea was formed in her head that my father talked with the subsequent directors and choreographers to tell them to not let her dance.
Does this seem possible? Obviously not! But the Italian justice system did without ever having asked for anything from the person concerned and prominent in the testimony of the poor discriminated dancer. I am also very surprised that a journalist put sentences in quotation marks which implies that they are phrases said by my father, without even having asked him if he said those things! This is total madness. Of course, for all the goodness I have in my heart for the world and its inhabitants in all their variety, I will not let this pass: good people, when they get angry, become worse than bad people, and I am very angry right now.