The Evil Imp

Essentially Worthless?

It was suitably ironic that following our feature piece last week concerning the problems with professional dancers trying to find properly paid, full-time jobs an audition landed in our inbox from The Royal Opera House in London.

This particular audition, seeking 6 female dancers for the staging of an opera called ‘Anna Nicole’, was offering a weekly pay level of just £358.72.

The situation echoed a previous incident from 2012 when English National Opera was caught out paying professional dancers even less per week. On both occasions the weekly amount and the additional, also very poor, performance fees were negotiated by Equity, the performing arts union.

Article19 published the audition notice to highlight the comically bad pay level, particularly for dancers working in London. Ultimately it has to be a dancers decision whether or not to apply for a job but in this instance the pathetic amount of money being offered needed to highlighted.

Unusually, The Royal Opera House responded directly on Twitter when Article19 and many others pointed out the poor level of pay;

You know you are on the wrong side of a particular argument when your only defence is little more than “yeah, we know this is terrible but these other guys said it was ok so don’t blame us”.

The defence deployed by the communications team at The Royal Opera House is one typically reserved for commercial corporations caught dumping toxic waste in a river. Yes the waste was toxic, they would say, but the regulator says it’s ok as long as we only dump a little bit of toxic waste.

Irrespective of what a regulator says surely we can all get together and agree that no amount of toxic waste dumping in a river is ok?

The salaries of senior executives in large scale organisations like The Royal Opera House are determined by “renumeration committees”. Essentially, a group of people have a long chat about what a particular individual is worth.

At some point the renumeration committee at the ROH decided their Music Director Antonio Poppano was worth over £700,000 per year. Mr Poppano is the conductor of the opera that wants to pay 6 professional dancers a basic wage of just £358.72.

The Royal Opera House receives more than £20Million in annual subsidy from Arts Council England and at some point a meeting was had that determined these 6 professional dancers were pretty much worthless.

Poverty of Ethics

Following the publication of the audition for the ROH we received two further notices from project based companies, one based in the UK and one based in the Republic of Ireland.

Both of those companies were offering pay levels in excess of £500 per week and, in one instance, accommodation costs for those not based in the company’s local area.

Why is it that project based companies with incredibly tight budgets can afford to pay more than the mighty Royal Opera? The answer is fairly simple.

The choreographers on those projects ignore Equity and all of the other advisory bodies and budget their dancers pay at a level that is as fair as they can possibly make it given the constraints of their budgets.

More often than not the dance makers sending out these auditions are dancers themselves and know only too well the problems of low pay and trying to survive as you move from job to job.

Determining the level of pay for an individual is just as much of an ethical and moral decision as it is a financial one. As one individual said during the recent furore over dancers not being paid to appear in a music video for Kylie Minogue; if they don’t want to pay you, they basically think what you have to offer is worthless.

Dancers living and working in London have to cope with some of the highest living costs anywhere in the world. Even a single room in a house share can cost in excess of £800 a month. It is these simple and irrefutable facts that make the Royal Opera House’s pay offer even more pathetic.

Today Article19 received an email from the Chorus Manager of the Royal Opera; Dermot Agnew. He asked us to amend the notice because they had received a large amount of interest in the jobs being offered.

This is as depressing as it is predictable.

In the job market the dancers are always at a disadvantage and employers like the ROH know this. It’s how they get away with it.

Mr Agnew said he had a “lot of girls inquiring”. He was informed in no uncertain terms that not only was the notice not going to be amended, but referring to professional dancers as “girls” was something he shouldn’t do ever again.

The complete and utter lack of respect is palpable.