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French ballet chief sacked for firing dancer who had baby

Published on February 07, 2020

The director of a French ballet has been sacked for getting rid of a dancer after she had a baby, the French culture ministry confirmed Friday.

Unions had called for Greek-born Yorgos Loukos to go after he lost his appeal over discrimination against dancer Karline Marion, who was 34 at the time.

He was ordered to pay Marion 5,000 euros ($5,500) in compensation.

The case comes after a similar outcry in 2018 when soloist Gaela Pujol was dismissed by the Nice Ballet after she got pregnant for a second time.

The dancer is now suing the ballet’s director Eric Vu-An for harassment and discrimination.

Loukos, 69, who had been director of the Lyon Ballet for 33 years, was fired on Thursday after its board voted unanimously for his departure.

Like the vast majority of ballerinas in France, Marion was on a temporary contract during her five years at the ballet.

In 2014, with her post about to become permanent under French law because she had worked through five contracts, Marion was let go two days after she returned from maternity leave.

– Harassment and bullying –

At the time, Loukas told the municipal authorities who pay the dancers’ salaries that he was sacking her because of her “physical and stylistic weakness”.

He added that the dancer’s style “was too classical” even though she had spent much of her career at the more free-form Bejart Ballet.

During a meeting with the dancer, which she recorded, Loukos told her: “If between the ages of 29 and 34 you did a fair bit, though not a lot, you are not going to do much more between 35 and 40, particularly with a child.”

The normally reserved world of ballet has been shaken in recent years by the #MeToo movement, with more and more dancers speaking out about bullying and sexual harassment.

Last week the Royal Ballet in London suspended its top choreographer Liam Scarlett, who has been accused of asking students to send him naked photographs.

In 2018 an anonymous survey of dancers at the Paris Opera seen by AFP found that 77 percent had either been bullied or witnessed a colleague being bullied.

The ballet’s dancers — some of the very few with permanent contracts — have been on strike since early December to save their centuries-old pension regime that lets them retire at 42.