RNZB ballet master fired for inappropriate behaviour

Source: 1News

A ballet master at the Royal New Zealand Ballet has been sacked for inappropriate behaviour in the studio and on tour, with one current member saying he made a lot of comments about the weight of female dancers.

Michael Auer trained dancers and is also the husband of the national company's artistic director Patricia Barker, which members past and present say made it difficult to speak out.

A leaked email signed by executive director Lester McGrath shows the board terminated his contract immediately and he is not allowed on RNZB premises or events.

"I am saddened and concerned to hear that inappropriate behaviour has been happening after we have worked hard to improve our organisational culture in recent years,” McGrath said in the email.

The company confirmed complaints were made about him between February and April of this year and he was dismissed this month.

One company member, who wants to remain anonymous, said Auer’s comments were “quite directed at the women".

"There was a lot of comments about weight. Any noticeable changes, especially loss of weight was praised,” they said.

They said he made upsetting comments.

"There was always like a ..'you're terrible', that kind of thing," they said.

The Austrian ballet master has had various roles at the company - including as a volunteer - since Barker started at the the ballet company in 2017.

Her arrival was followed by an exodus of unhappy dancers and she’s drawn accusations of nepotism for bringing her husband on board.

​One member said the relationship has made it difficult for staff to speak out.

A former member said it was hard to trust Auer.

“Everything and anything would go back to her,” they said.

The RNZB receives more than $5 million a year from taxpayers.

It declined 1News' request for an interview.

In a statement, the board thanked those who came forward and said allegations of inappropriate behaviour are taken seriously.

“We want the RNZB culture to be inclusive,” McGrath said.

Board chairwoman Kerry Prendergast said she still had confidence in Barker and management.

A ballerina in the national company in the 1970s, Dawn Sanders, knows the pressure dancers ​across the industry face about their weight.

She’s taught dance anatomy for 40 years and said early menopause is a risk for underweight dancers.

Sanders explained dancers who don’t get periods can get stress fractures very easily and, in some cases, their fertility can be affected.

She said attitudes to weight vary across different companies and the world but it "still has room for improvement".

The leaked email shows the company is now reviewing its health support for dancers and bullying prevention training is being put in place.

McGrath said RNZB "takes the welfare of its dancers extremely seriously".

One current member said they were hopeful for the future of the company. saying, "It feels like it’s going to be a positive change."

1News sought responses from Auer and Barker, neither of whom replied.