November 24, 1994: The Stage recently reported claims of low pay from dancers in the touring version of Thriller Live, but 25 years ago it was a similar story, as we were covering the demand for a separate ballet dancers’ union to secure fair pay, interviewing choreographer and then male principal dancer with the Vienna Festival Ballet, Christopher Lee Wright.
Speaking to The Stage at the time, he said: “I was principal male dancer with the Vienna Festival Ballet, working solidly for five-month stretches until I was exhausted. We had no contracts and at times had to endure nine-hour bus rides to a venue where we then performed 27 shows with no days off.
“The physical and mental pressure was extreme and I felt alone and isolated. On top of that our pay was ridiculous with the girls barely covering the cost of their pointe shoes and if you were injured you got no money for six months.
“In the long run I think this will kill ballet because people will be put off by poor performances from exhausted dancers…Dancers are being treated like slaves and we need more protection. Equity is good but it is not strong enough for ballet dancers. We need our own union to look after us.”
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