Ballet British Columbia is establishing a workplace harassment policy that will take effect in May in response to dancers' concerns about the way they have been treated by choreographers.
Yvonne Darcel, president of the company's board of governors, said there were rumours circulating in the company about concerns over some choreographers being "too physical" with dancers.
Company executive director Kevin Myers said in an interview that he reported the rumours to Darcel, but added there were no "official" complaints. "It was only rumours -- things I heard during conversations in the hall."
He added that artistic director John Alleyne had suggested a harassment policy last April because of dancers' concerns about a visiting choreographer. But the dancers say their concerns extend beyond that.
Alleyne did not respond to repeated calls for an interview.
Darcel said that she thought the dancers' concerns had more to do with changes in the company's approach to dance making -- from collaborative to a more top-down management style -- than with any choreographer's behaviour.
"One thing we are doing is getting a clear harassment policy to make sure there is a clear line about how people can behave," Darcel said. "But I think there was some culture shock for a few dancers."
Asked what the board planned to do about dancers' requests that certain choreographers get anger-management training, Darcel said: "I won't comment on the details."
Myers, the executive director, explained how he felt in-studio actions were misinterpreted: "Choreographers are passionate people. Would I jump out of my chair and run across the room shouting 'No, no, no!' at my administrative staff? -- of course not. But this is different."
That is exactly the double standard that has some of the dancers riled.
In a business where colleagues drop each other on the floor as part of the job, they say they know the difference between enthusiasm and hostility.
"I hate that artistic-temperament argument," said one of the seven dancers who agreed to talk about their experiences, provided their names were not used. "I'm artistic -- I don't have a 'temperament.'
"Dancers are really vulnerable," the dancer added, explaining the reluctance to be identified. "There are very few jobs, and a director can fire you for anything. If you don't 'fit his artistic vision.' But what does that mean? If you sue for wrongful dismissal, or complain, you won't get another job anywhere in the world."
Six of BBC's 14 dancers are leaving at the end of the season. Gail Skrela, Kerry Lynn Turner and Todd Woffinden are leaving voluntarily. Isabelle Ottmann and Terry Gardiner have been told they don't fit the "new artistic vision." Sylvain Senez won't be dancing, but may still work for the company.
BBC dancers have a history of rebelling against directors. In 1990, Patricia Neary was fired after less than a year on the job because of internal conflicts. The bad publicity surrounding the Neary incident discouraged private funding and nearly destroyed the fledgling company.
But Myers said there is no danger of history repeating itself, and he worries that the concerns of a few dancers will be blown out of proportion.
The company, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, has a balanced budget, no deficit and has just finished touring The Faerie Queen, its most successful production to date.
"The proof is in the pudding," Myers said. "If dancers are unhappy, you see it on stage -- and those dancers look phenomenal."