Vienna ballet academy 'endangering children's wellbeing'

Vienna (AFP) –


Vienna's prestigious ballet academy is endangering children's wellbeing including by encouraging them to smoke to stay slim, an Austrian commission probing abuse claims said Tuesday.

The scandal broke in April when a media report accused the academy at Vienna's renowned State Opera of inflicting serious physical and mental abuse on its students as well as of sexual assault.

The weekly Falter newspaper published a detailed investigation exposing "19th-century" methods, alleging young dancers were hit, scratched until they bled, pulled by their hair and humiliated over their physiques, with some developing anorexia.

Created in 1771, the academy is one of Europe's most prestigious and attracts applicants from across the world.

Reacting to Tuesday's findings, Vienna's State Opera said it had already cut the number of students' performances, adding it would study the report in detail before giving a more thorough reply.

A government-backed special commission confirmed students received insufficient medical care, and also found a general "disregard" for child welfare.

Commission head Susanne Reindl-Krauskopf said that students were advised to start smoking to stay slim and addressed with their first names and clothes sizes.

"It is clear that children and adolescents are not sufficiently protected from discrimination, neglect and negative medical effects," the report stated.

It also warned that students' training loads were insufficiently controlled, "endangering their wellbeing".

The three-member commission held 16 hearings interviewing a total of 24 people.

Reindl-Krauskopf said the State Opera's director, Dominique Meyer, failed to fully carry out his supervisory responsibilities.

The Frenchman, who will leave to become the director of Italy's Scala next year after a decade in Vienna, had called for a "full investigation" when the scandal broke.

Since the allegations surfaced, the academy has introduced a course to teach students about nutrition and body image and hired psychologists to support them.

But the commission has dismissed these measures as insufficient.

The academy boasts alumni who dance for some of the world's most famous companies, including London's Royal Ballet, St Petersburg's Mariinsky and New York's American Ballet Theatre.