Back at the ballet, nothing has been resolved

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.’

Imagine that!

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?

There’s more:

‘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.

PPS The Despre Opera blog has some very good stuff about the ballet, including a number of articles in English, here.


22 thoughts on “Back at the ballet, nothing has been resolved

  1. Reading this kinda reminds me of the old Woody Allen joke…..’I was watching a ballet at City Center, and I’m not a ballet fan at all, but they were doing the dying swan, and there was a rumour, that some bookmakers had drifted into town from upstate New York, and that they had fixed the ballet. Apparently there was a lot of money bet on the swan to live.’


  2. I find it fascinating that the reaction of the Intelligentsia of the Opera in front of foreign competition mirrors the local conservative discourse during the 1990s transition to market economy. It is also somewhat similar to the Herta Müller – Mircea Cărtărescu et Co. dispute in 2010.
    Nobody likes competition, but the problem here is that the ‘intellectuals’ are much more influential than those farm boys turned football players. I wouldn’t bet on Cioloș or Șuteu supporting Kobborg.


  3. I don’t understand why there are so many globalist interests in the Romanian National Opera.

    Some contracts expired, some people left, other will be brought in. The Opera will survive. Barcelona will survive after Messi, Manchester United survived after Ronaldo etc… I didn’t see Portuguese institutions and press shaming Manchester United for selling Ronaldo.

    There were other more important things in Romania that were ruined by globalist interests, the Opera is really nothing compared to what they did over here.


      1. It’s the European Union and America who brought corruption in Romania. The ones who did that learned it from you.


      2. The same shit is happening in your hospitals, only that you’re as stupid as fuck and corrupt to the bone and you don’t even notice it.

        The nosocomial infection rate in Romania is the same as in Europe.

        At least we managed to get a hold on it.


  4. First of all you cannot compare Ronaldo with any of the dancers that Mr Kobborg brought in Bucharest National Opera.Second, Bucharest Opera is not called RNB or RNO the correct title and name is ONB. You are saying “Dancers – like anybody else – are paid what they are worth”. How come a corps de ballet dancer brought by mr Kobborg is payed much more than a soloist or principal one?The comparison between Bucharest National Opera and Steaua Bucharest is wrong. Opera is a public institution, with a fixed salary scale (as all the public/budget institutions), Steaua is a private football club wich pay the players from it s on budget. In every country there is a law, as in every Opera House there is an organizational chart, a grading structure wich includes all above. I will put here the link for the press release of Bucharest National Opera Ballet Department.Everything written on the link, is according to the Romania Law and Constitution and of course the inside Opera organizational structure.


  5. To achieve great results, artists usually need to think outside the box, outside the ‘organisational structure according to the constitution.’

    Hiding behind outdated ‘structures’ and rules and regulations can no longer be an excuse.


    1. Public money means public scrutiny and strict observance of the rules.
      Both the National Opera and Steaua, which receives tons of indirect subsidies, should be transparent and subject to predictable rules.

      Also, one more question: why should we pay for ballet instead of handball?


      1. Of course public money should be spent according to public scrutiny, but that doesn’t mean artistic directors need to have their hands tied by archaic practices and the redundant idea that a job is for life.

        As for the second question, perhaps we shouldn’t. Time maybe to give the opera its freedom and allow it to raise money as it sees fit?


      2. But he didn’t have his hands tied. He only had an outrageous 7000 Euro salary that provoked frustration among the team and among segments of the society.

        Nadia Comaneci never said she had her hands tied in Montreal. She was just a poor gymnast from the Eastern block, but that didn’t stop her.

        We would prefer to see more like Nadia than like Kobborg in this country.


      3. No, he didn’t have his hands tied because he threw out the rule book and created a professional ballet run along international lines to international standards. Speak to the young dancers who flourished and you will understand this.


      4. Nadia Comanecis godfather was Adrian Nastase the thief PM? Let us live without your cheep patriotism.


      5. Nastase got banged up because I personally asked the former PM Calin thinghy ( I forget his full name?) to sort him out good and proper. True story.


    2. Of course they are thinking outside the box, they always had, but you need to respect the law and the structure wich is part of the law. You cannot break it. It s illegal.


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