Due to a change in leadership at Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater in Schwerin, nearly the entire dance ensemble will face job losses by the end of the 2020/2021 season. In addition to publishing an ardent statement by the dancers on our website (in English), we will present a German version of the protest letter in the March issue of tanz, complemented by a statement from the ensemble's new director as well as a legal evaluation of the situation. Available here:https://www.der-theaterverlag.
With this statement, we the dancers of the Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater in Schwerin hope to raise awareness of the reality of being a dancer in Germany and show what it means to be utterly replaceable.
In 2020, like millions of others around the world, we lost our jobs. However, unlike most, our job losses have nothing to do with the Corona pandemic. Our theatre will still be here after the pandemic but most of us dancers will not be. Our theatre will have a new Intendant and a new ballet director who have ended our contracts. Many articles are written celebrating these new ballet directors but we rarely hear about the many dancers who, like us, are victims of these changes of directorship. This is our side of the story.
The 2019-2020 season was a difficult and unusual one for dancers everywhere. On the last day of it, we were called into the theatre to meet our new Intendant, Hans-Georg Wegner. It was the first time since the start of the pandemic that the whole company was together. There, in front of us, the new Intendant fired our ballet director. He told us that he had never seen any of her work and that he knew little about dance, but he fired her anyway. Our jobs were immediately under threat from somebody with no knowledge of dance. The Intendant has ultimate power in the theatre while we as performing artists have none. After a long wait, we found out, not personally, but via a Facebook post that the new ballet director would be Xenia Wiest. Before our audition for Ms Wiest, an email was sent by her to all the dancers. She told us that she understood from a dancer's perspective that a director change is difficult, but now as a director she had to ‘disconnect her personal sympathies’.
We felt that the decision to end our contracts had been made before our new director saw us dance. At the audition, we found Ms Wiest's behaviour disrespectful. She failed to introduce herself or even greet us. She did not interact with us or give us feedback about our work. Several dancers asked for an opportunity to speak to her but she did not allow it. Two weeks later, her decision was made: Out of fourteen dancers, she chose to keep one. Another dancer was exempt from non-elongation because she has been at the theatre for more than eight seasons. That meant that twelve dancers, as well as our director and ballet master, were invited to a Nichtverlängerungsgespräch. This is a hearing that the Intendant is legally required to hold before making a “final” decision on our contracts.
The Nichtverlängerungsgespräch is a farce and a process that German theatres should be ashamed of. Employees of the theatre end up begging for their jobs when the outcome is already clear. It is insulting to sit there and defend yourself as if you have done something wrong. We are young dancers from foreign countries and are in no way prepared for that sort of situation. The Intendant had told us that he has no real knowledge about dance. How can it be that he is the one who decides over our careers? And what can you possibly say to defend yourself against him? In our meetings we mentioned children, relationships, visa complications, the Corona pandemic. None of it made a difference. Ms Wiest did not even attend the meetings and we never found out why she did not want us.
Schwerin is our home. We have built our lives here which we now have to rebuild because of our new director’s decision. What does the dancer do, whose children and wife are happily settled here? Does he uproot his whole family for another dance job? Another one-year contract where it could all happen again? What does the dancer do, whose visa depends on working here? Or the dancers whose partners are here? The process of being fired was drawn out from June until October. Months of constant stress and uncertainty made worse by the fact that it happened during the pandemic. Unemployment seems certain because most companies are not looking for dancers. The pandemic has closed our theatres and we cannot train or rehearse properly. So how can we show the best of ourselves? For many of us, this decision has prematurely ended our already short careers. We believe that we at least deserved a chance. A real chance to work with the new director and show who we are as dancers and as people. That chance was never given to us. We feel betrayed because we devote so much of ourselves to our profession and our theatre where we have performed countless times for our audience. Our theatre which we fought for during the pandemic. We are a part of what makes this theatre and we have been dismissed from it.
We do not want pity. Instead, we hope that sharing our story might encourage change for dancers in Germany. What happened to us is not unique but speaking out about it is. The system in place is archaic and needs to be addressed. We tried to seek help from the union and the politicians but they offered nothing but sympathy. It was always the same response; the Intendant has artistic freedom and therefore nothing can be done. For us, this is the biggest question: What is artistic freedom? The choir and the orchestra are protected by their contracts and cannot be fired. Does the Intendant not have artistic freedom in those departments? The new ballet director will pick the repertoire and choreograph her own pieces. Is that not artistic freedom? Does she only get artistic freedom through letting us all go? She has effectively told us we can no longer dance. Is her artistic freedom worth more than ours? Does artistic freedom even rise above our rights and interests as skilled artists? Is artistic freedom above morals?
From the moment a change of Intendant was announced, we knew there was a strong chance of losing our jobs. We knew this long in advance but we could not do anything to stop it. The decision was always completely out of our hands. It is too late to save our jobs but it is not too late to speak out. We hope that other dancers will do the same and that those in charge of our theatres will seek alternatives to the inhuman practices in place. Only then can we move forward and finally improve our profession.
The Ballet Ensemble of the Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater:
Jordi Arnau Rubio
Marc Balló Cateura
Fem Rosa Has
Irene López Ros
Gisela de Paz Solvas
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