27 Jun 2018

Two Royal NZ Ballet dancers get compensation following complaints

From Checkpoint, 5:42 pm on 27 June 2018

Of the four complaints laid by dancers at the Royal New Zealand Ballet company, two have received payments, the board's chairman Steven Fyfe says. 

Claims of bullying emerged from dancers at the company last year, coinciding with the departure of a several dancers: almost half the dancers either left or did not have their contracts renewed over the space of about six months. 

Accounts of what happened have varied wildly, with the RNZB itself rejecting many of the accusations. Dancers, mostly speaking off the record, were adamant the culture was sometimes beyond robust. 

It got to the point where former deputy State Services Comissioner Doug Craig was asked to conduct a review of the company's "policies and procedures for managing and responding to complaints by staff". 

RNZB Romeo & Juliet

RNZB performs 'Romeo and Juliet'. Photo: Stephen A'Court

Board chairman Steven Fyfe told Checkpoint tonight the review had found the complaints it received were taken seriously. 

"We did receive complaints, it's all a matter of public record - and we took those very seriously and that's why we had Mr Craig undertake the independent review earlier in the year," he said. 

He said they had received four complaints. Of those, one was withdrawn and the three others had gone to mediation. 

"My understanding is two of the three have been concluded in mediation and there's been a financial payment, largely for compensation of time and legal costs." 

The company has about 30 dancers. 

Mr Fyfe would not say what the mediations involved, but denied the complaints were about bullying. 

RNZB dancers performing The Last Dance by Corey Baker

RNZB performs 'Dancing with Mozart'. Photo: Stephen A'Court Photography

"We did get complaints but they were not of the nature that you've described," he said.  

"What I'm not able to tell you is the discussions that went on in mediation ... but what I think I can say is that the findings from mediation is that ... the subject of the grievances were around the process by which dancers' contracts are renewed. 

The review had ended with 11 recommendations in March, including additional training for staff, making some policies clearer and creating a blueprint for cultural, behavioural and performance expectations.

"He had number of recommendations for how we could do better ... he did find that we had treated the complaints seriously, we had policies that were fit for purpose - not perfect - and he's given us recommendations about how we could do it better." 

Mr Fyfe admitted three dancers had left in the first half of the year but said there was always turnover. 

"One way you could think about it is 'are dancers attracted to the Royal New Zealand Ballet' and they are. 

"We have plenty of applications, we're inundated with people wanting to join ... there is a high turnover in the ballet industry, dancers want to dance for a number of companies. 

"We're in the performing arts, it's a tough profession, it's technically extraordinarily proficient ... it's a tough business to get right. 

"We're always challenged for finances, we're always challenged on health and safety issues." 

He said he was absolutely proud to be associated with the company, and it was absolutely committed to making New Zealanders proud.