Since we last wrote on these pages about the goings on at the Romanian National Ballet (RNB), there have been no real positive developments.
The new Minister of Culture Corina Suteu has yet to appoint a new permanent director of the Romanian National Opera (RNO; of which the RNB is part), meaning that former artistic director Johan Kobborg and his fiancee, ballerina Alina Cojocaru, remain frozen out.
Earlier this week we spoke to Cojocaru, who told us that: ‘It’s unclear for us what does the government (including the Ministry of Culture) intends to do: please the protesters who demand fixed salaries and guaranteed jobs for life, or continue the reforms which opened the ballet to the world? The ballet performances were constantly selling all tickets, people from other countries were coming to Bucharest to attend the opera and ballet performances, and this is all due to a visionary and daring management team that included Johan. I believe the Romanian authorities are put to a test these days: would they pass it, Romania will separate from the past for good. Would they fail, we will all go back in time 25 years.’
In the meantime, many of the young dancers brought in by Kobborg have had little choice but to resign. Most have now left Romania.
On of these is Daniela Norman, a young English ballerina now back at the English National Ballet working on Swan Lake, who we also spoke to. She gave us some real insight into how the ballet – and its dancers – bloomed while Kobborg was in charge.
‘I had never worked with Johan Kobborg before, but I knew a lot about him and his ballet career,’ she said. ‘After hearing about his influence and work in Bucharest I just had to audition for the company and was extremely fortunate to have been offered a contract for the following season. I accepted because I knew I wanted to join this company under his directorship. He completely transformed the company and brought it up to an international level in a very short amount of time, it’s incredible really.’
It was to dancers such as Daniela that the opera was referring in a rather spiteful (and unofficial) statement it put out last weekend.
Amongst a number of grievances, it decried the fact that Kobborg had recruited ballerinas ‘without the approval of the speciality committee.’
The question of differential salaries was also raised: ‘Mr. Kobborg constantly supported and demonstrated discrimination of the ballet dancers in terms of their salaries for the same type of rendered services, which represents a severe breach of Romanian and EU legislation.’
No, it doesn’t. Dancers – like anybody else – are paid what they are worth. As we have asked before: If Ronaldo came to play for Steaua Bucharest, would the Romanian players on the team demand the same salary?
‘Mr Kobborg carried out professional discrimination among the artists regarding casting. Not one established prima ballerina from our institution had the privilege of working with specially invited guests under Mr. Kobborg’s administration.’
Again, what this actually means is that Kobborg cast dancers according to their ability, not their rank. As Daniela Norman puts it:
‘Johan wasn’t afraid to take risks. His trust in us as young dancers, to take on solo roles, which may not happen for years in other companies, really helped us grow and see our potential. Johan gave dancers who weren’t ranked soloists opportunities to learn solo roles and this is what makes him a great director. He gave dancers with budding careers the chance to show their capability and maybe then get promoted.’
Was there a divide between foreign and Romanian dancers?
‘During the time I worked at the company I didn’t feel that there was a divide: some of my close friends were Romanian. I would say however that some of the older dancers did seem as if they had a bit of an ill feeling towards the new management and dancers.’
And what about the fact that English was the ballet’s working language? The opera’s statement claims that ‘stipulating the mandatory use of the English language during rehearsals and causing conflicts which led to the resignation of important Romanian ballet masters and valuable first soloists from our department.’
Daniela Norman: ‘Almost half the company was international. Speaking a language we all understood was in my opinion compulsory. Of course we learnt the basics of Romanian.’
Meanwhile, we couldn’t help but notice that the publicly-funded CSM Bucuresti handball team, which won the European Champions League last weekend, is packed with foreign stars from countries as diverse as Russia, Croatia and Brazil. All paid – we would assume – more money than some of the Romanian members of the squad. The coach Kim Rasmussen is (like Johan Kobborg) Danish, and the working language of the squad is… English. Places on the team are decided on merit (the best players, as you would expect, start matches), and girls who no longer reach the required standard do not have their contracts renewed.
We also very much doubt that Rasmussen has to have his team selection approved by a speciality committee.
And you know what? None of this appears to be a problem for the team, for its backers (Bucharest City Council) or for its fans.
Who’d have thought that the world of Romanian sport would be more open-minded than the ballet?
PS You will be able to read more from Alina Cojocaru and Daniela Norman in the next issue of Tanz magazine: if you can understand German, that is. We will post an English version here as soon as it is published.