It declares itself the birthplace of classic dance and is among the oldest and most prestigious classical corps in the world, known for its danseurs étoile and petits rats, the child stars of its 300-year-old school.
When it comes to fancy footwork, however, the the Paris Opera Ballet’s directors found they had unwittingly stepped into the spotlight this week.
On Thursday, France’s state auditors, the Cour des Comptes, lambasted 10 directors for running up nearly €93,350 (£80,000) in taxi bills between them in 2013 and 2014. It also criticised what it described as the “quite high level” of spending on business lunches.
In its report, the auditors revealed there had been a sudden progression in the amount spent on meals – about €52,000 in 2014 – by just four members of staff, and that €175,222 plus taxes had been spent on a reception “for which the establishment has not been able to give an explanation”.
Among those rebuked was the star choreographer Benjamin Millepied – husband of the actor Natalie Portman – who resigned in February after his plans to radically modernise the ballet repertoire were thwarted.
The Cour des Comptes said it found it hard to see how a car and chauffeur for Millepied could be justified when no other manager was afforded the same privilege. The POB insisted the expensive perk had since been abolished, and that it had reduced its taxi bill for management and guest artists by a third.
“The taxi budget was reduced by 30% in 2015 and came to €60,000 for 17 directors and a certain number of invited artists. The cost of work lunches also dropped by 10% last year to €47,000 for around 20 people,” it added in a statement.
In October last year Le Parisien reported that a member of the Paris Opera Balletstaff had run up a €52,000 bill on his mobile phone during a holiday in Spain. The man said he had used the phone for sending messages, making calls and updating his union website to spread news of a strike.
In April 2015, Agnès Saal, the president of the Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, was forced to resign after she ran up €40,000 in taxi bills in 10 months, €6,700 of which were for her son, while at the same time benefiting from an official car and chauffeur. She has since been given a job at the culture ministry.
Millepied stood down from the dance company little more than a year after he arrived with a promise to radically shake it up. In a statement, he said he was leaving “only for personal reasons” and to take more time to devote himself “100% to artistic and creative expression”. But it was clear that all was not well after he lambasted the ballet’s hierarchical structure in a French television documentary.
Millepied and Portman had brought a huge injection of glamour – and sponsorship cash – to the venerable Paris institution.
He has been replaced at the head of the company by the high-profile French ballet dancer Aurélie Dupont. The 43-year-old, who started her career at the École de Danse de l’Opéra as an 11-year-old and ended it last spring, hinted that under her, the company might be more traditional.