Ballet's working culture sound

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
An independent review into the country's national ballet company found no issues with its working culture, despite previous allegations of workplace bullying and reports of an exodus of unhappy dancers.

The review was commissioned amid speculation of a poor working culture at the Royal New Zealand Ballet after it was reported close to half the 36 dancers it employed were leaving - not all by choice - at the end of 2017.

The substance of any specific allegations made or the responses to them were not within the scope of the review, which looked more at how complaints had been managed and the general working policies.

It was the second year in a row there had been reports of artistic upheaval at the company, with three artistic directors at the helm in as many years.

Former deputy state services commissioner Doug Craig conducted the review and found while its working policies were sound, there was some room for improvement.

Mr Craig said in the report published yesterday it was important to note that any complaints by themselves were not an indication of organisational failure or poor workplace culture.

"The RNZB has a long history of significantly high artistic output and a world-class reputation for consistently developing and performing outstanding productions.

"There are inherent stresses, including competition for roles and a constant striving for peak performance that make it inevitable that from time to time people may feel like they have not been treated fairly nor been given the opportunity to perform at their best."

Mr Craig said the RNZB needed to therefore develop policies and procedures that took these unique factors into account and create the culture it sought to establish at the company.

He made 11 recommendations, including one to employ a dedicated director of people and culture that could be the "first port of call" for staff to seek advice on any difficulties they were facing.

Craig also noted turnover of key staff, such as the artistic director, executive director, and the ballet mistress and mistresses during the period reviewed could have been unsettling.

It could have created a "loss of institutional knowledge."

Mr Craig added new personnel needed time to understand the culture and values of the organisation and this carried with it a risk this may be misjudged.

Other recommendations Mr Craig made in the review included a review of all the company policies, conflict training for management staff and the commission of a programme of work aimed at building a sustainable and enduring culture founded on RNZB values.

RNZB chairman Steven Fyfe said the company accepted all the findings and would be working with its staff to implement the recommendations.

Reports of the artistic upheavals at the company date back to 2016 when it was reported as many as 12 dancers and other staff left the classical ballet company - three or four of them due to issues with then-artistic director of almost three years Franceso Ventriglia.

Less than six months later Ms Ventriglia handed over the helm to Patricia Barker, formerly artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet in Michigan in the United States, who then faced accusations of favouritism after she hired colleagues from her former company.

At the end of 2017 16 members left, although RNZB media spokesman Jeremy Brick said at the time this was not a "mass exodus" and said most were leaving by choice for other companies or other careers.

The subsequent criticism of the company and concerns it was not doing enough to hire local talent stopped short of involving the new prime minister.

But Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said late last year she was "keeping an eye on the issue"

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