Endgame – La Permanence –

Today, we publish an open-letter written by members of La Permanence, an activist group that exposes abuses of power and cases of harassment and discrimination in dance and other related fields. In this letter, La Permanence supports dancer Karline Marion’s struggle against the discrimination she endured while working at the ballet of the Lyon Opera, and pays tribute to her courage and tenacity. Through this struggle, Marion achieved a highly symbolic victory. With this letter, La Permanence seeks to rehabilitate Marion’s name and restore her practice to its rightful place in the world of contemporary dance. The letter already has already gathered 250 signatures (247 from art workers and 3 from activist groups).

On February 18th, 2020, an open letter published in Next Libération spoke out against the dismissal of Yorgos Loukos from his position as Director of the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon. This dismissal followed a court decision that found Loukos guilty of workplace discrimination in December, 2019. The discriminations in question concern events taking place in 2014, when dancer Karline Marion, returning from maternity leave, was subject to sexist remarks on the part of the director. She was subsequently fired. 

Various media outlets have reported on these events (LibérationTéléramaSceneweb, etc.). More recently, the open letter of February 18th has expressed the reaction of a certain class of artists and cultural professionals who take exception to this decision, judged “arbitrary” and “incomprehensible.” (for a synopsis of the events in English you can read this article of The New York Times). 

The media coverage often omits Karline Marion’s remarkable talents as a dancer, and we wish to underline them here, understanding that written dance history often privileges the names of choreographers over those of dancers. After years as a soloist at the Béjart Ballet Lausanne, she joined the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon in 2008. She was attributed numerous “soloist” roles in pieces by William Forsythe, Angelin Preljocaj, Benjamin Millepied, and George Balanchine, for example, and also stood out in more contemporary repertory: works by Odile Duboc, Trisha Brown, Merce Cunningham, and Ohad Naharin. 

In 2014, after having been employed on the basis of five short term contracts, her employment was not renewed. Yorgos Loukos voiced his decision not to renew Karline Marion’s contract, citing artistic and familial reasons: “If between 29 and 34 years old you’ve done well but not fantastic, you won’t be able to do much more, especially with a kid.” [1]

In a March 5th press release, the FNSAC-CGT [2] noted that “the judges have also made it clear that the Director of the ballet had been incapable of proving that the discharged dancer could not satisfy ‘fundamental professional demands.’”

Yorgos Loukos has taken it upon himself to deny employment to this dancer under the pretext of her personal situation, relegating her to her status as a mother and woman, which would be apparently incompatible with her professional position. If Karline Marion had not been fired, she would have certainly been offered a longer term contract.

Maintaining the employment of dancers on the basis of precarious, temporary contracts guarantees a certain docility. This asymmetry is omnipresent in all domains of wage labor; the dance field is no exception. These power dynamics clear the way for harassment and discrimination. It is therefore necessary to reinforce the rights of workers and foment a more balanced power dynamic. Flexibility and mobility for contracted workers are advantages if they are chosen rather than imposed, contrary to what recent reforms to the French unemployment and pension systems have attempted to promote. It is the responsibility of a director to inspire trust and professionalism among members of a troupe, to insure that rehearsals proceed respectfully and ethically, and to support dancers in the evolution of their career. 

Those who have signed the February 18th open letter question the role of organised unions. It seems to have become fashionable to call for a direct dialogue between employees and directors without these intermediary parties, a mode of operation which in reality serves to reduce the negotiating powers of the workers and to further solidify the traditional hierarchy. A union representative helps guarantee that exchanges between employers and employees respect the rights of the labor force. The open letter suggests that a vote amongst the dancers should determine whether Yorgos Loukos would maintain direction of the ballet. To suddenly call for a democratic vote within a vertically-structured organisation demonstrates the hypocrisy of those who benefit from these power structures.

Over the past several years, collectives and associations such as La Permanence and HF have gathered statements from employees in the dance field. Conclusions echo those from the majority of institutions : art communities are not immune to neoliberal erosion, dancers in a company are often subject to the desires of a director, and pyramid-like hierarchies continue to wear down artistic and administrative personnel. Open dialogue is still lacking. The fact that Karline Marion was obliged to secretly audio-record her discussions with her employer bears witness to the fact that her testimony could not stand on its own. Herein lies the difficulty in proving verbal harassment and abuses of power. While the February 2020 open letter deems the methods by which the director was dismissed as “regrettable,” we would like to underline that by casting doubt on the condemnation of Yorgos Loukos, the letter casts doubt on the stated experience of a victim. It is this that we find truly regrettable. Why has this privileged cohort of figures from the dance sector chosen not to take personal statements on the lived experience of a dancer seriously? 

The ouster of Yorgos Loukos – even if it is not understood as such by this cadre of publicly acclaimed artists  – is an historical moment for us. Karline Marion’s courageous engagement in a five-year-long judiciary procedure heartens us, and gives us hope that we can continue to change practices in our profession. This dismissal calls us to reach out to the boards of trustees of other institutions demonstrating violent managerial politics, that these boards might put an end to those practices. The Gaîté Lyrique in Paris, for example.

These tactics of intimidation and blackmail don’t have a place in 2020. Is it necessary to remind our readers of the difficulties women face in our societies? Is it necessary to remind them of the latest statistics published on International Women’s Day concerning the place of women in the cultural field? Is it necessary to remind them of the situations of those who exist in the margins : people on lower rungs of our hierarchies, the economically precarious, trans people, non-white people, fat people, lesbians, the disabled, seniors, etc.?

We who work in the fields of dance and live arts in France have chosen to react publicly to an open letter that seems to come to us from another time, another era. We, artistic labourers, we wish with our letter to give strength to the testimonies of a dancer, an artist, and to denounce the violence of a system of power that always brings harm down on the most precarious among us. We – dancers, choreographers, techniciens, administrative workers, researchers, spectators – we are shocked to read this open letter, signed by those we have often admired, respected, and who may have helped spark our desire to practice and create. You represent, in this letter, another world, one different from the world in which we want to live. You are invited to withdraw as many pieces from the repertory of the company as you wish, if they serve to reinforce this societal violence. It is your behaviour that is incomprehensible. It is this condescension from the upper classes that is shameful. It is this systemic violence that is intolerable.

                                                                                                                                La Permanence

SIGNATORIES: Patricia Allio · Selin Altiparmak · Aude Arago · Jonathan Archambaut · Clément Aubert · Stéphanie Auberville · Andrea Baglione · Juliette Baron · Françoise Barret · Anne Bautz · Stéphanie Bayle · Chloé Bégou · Jérôme Bel · Jenny Bernardi · Benjamin Bertrand · Nadia Beugré · Olivier Bioret · Nuno Bizarro · Sarah Blumenfeld · Virginie Bobin · Alice Boivin · Christine Bombal · Léa Bonnaud · Léa Bosshard · François Boulet · Noémie Bourlon · Philippe Bouttier · Mathieu Bouvier · Garance Bréhaudat · Mia Brion · Dominique Brun · Gaëtan Brun-Picard · Louise Buléon-Kayser · Lili Buvat · Fernando Cabral · Bryan Campbell · Laura Campino · Jonathan Capdevielle · Sofia Cardona · Céline Cartillier · Valérie Castan · Baptiste Cazaux · Marie-Bénédicte Cazeneuve · Pascal Cebulski · Antoine Cegarra · François Chaignaud · Sarah Chaumette · Clarisse Chanel · Céline Champinot · Béatrice Charreton · Matthieu Chayrigues · Jonas Chéreau · Camille Chenais · Adrien Chiquet · Anna Chirescu · Sylvie Cieren · Ondine Cloez · Barbara Coffy · Pauline Colemard · Nathalie Collantes · Anne Collod · Emmanuelle Cordoliani · Nick Coutsier · Benjamin Croizy · Daria Dadun · Charles Dalerci · Renaud Dallet · Frédéric Danos · Sorour Darabi · Garance Debert · Helena de Laurens · Bintou Dembélé · Anne Dessertine · Aurore Di Bianco · Louise Djabri · DD Dorviller · Matthieu Doze · Léa Drouet · Victor Duclos · Agathe Dumont · Marjory Duprés · Caroline Eckly · Arthur Eskenazi · Teo Fdida · Simon Feltz · Charlotte Fermand · Isabela Fernandes de Santana · Leïla Fourez · Madeleine Fournier · Abigaïl Fowler · Aurélie Gaillard · Audrey Gaisan · Florian Gaité · Chiara Gallerani · Clémence Galliard · Thomas Gallus · Rachel Garcia · Lili Garcia Gomez · Ghyslaine Gau · Estelle Gautier · Fanny Gayard · Dylan Genest · Dominique Gilliot · Philippe Gladieux · Halory Goerger · Vinciane Gombrowicz · Célia Gondol · Miroslaw Gordon · Elsa Goujon Gregori · Sophie Grappin · Jessica Guez · Younès Guillemot · Margot Guillerm · Maxime Guillon-roi-sans-sac · Patrick Harivel · Helen Heraud · Rémy Héritier · Simon Hervé · Johanna Hilari · Axel Ibot · Sandra Iché · Tristan Ihne · Catalina Insignares · Kévin Jean · Dom Jégou · Yoann Jolly · Anne Kerzerho · Kidows Kim · Solène Krystkowiak · Aminata Labor · Jennifer Lacey · Aude Lachaise · Joris Lacoste · Mateo Lagiere · Lucas Lagomarsino · Nino Laisné · Maëva Lamolière · Julie Laporte · Erwan Ha Kyoon Larcher · Lasseindra · Isabelle Launay · Pénélope Laurent Noye · Mylène Lauzon · Pauline Le Boulba · Victor Leclère · Florian Leduc · Jeanne Lefèvre · Myriam Lefkowitz· Corentin Le Flohic · Aurélien Leforestier · Anne Lise Le Gac · Alice Leloup · Vincent Lenfant · Anne Lenglet · Anne-Chloé Le Roy · Jean Lesca · Laure Lescoffy · Annie Leuridan · Germain Louvet · Cécile Loyer · Sabine Macher · Mohamed Makhlouf· Noémie Makota · Nicolas Marie · David Marques · Hélène Marquié · Blandine Martel-Basile · Jan Martens · Corba Mathieu · Jérémy Mazeron · Émilie Meeus · Catherine Meneret · Anthony Merlaud · Bastien Mignot · Juliette Mignot · Viviana Moin · Fabien Monrose · Anna Muchin · Juliette Murgier · Tidiani N’Diaye · Calixto Neto · Nosfell · Smaranda Olcèse · Mathilde Papin · Mélanie Papin · Isabelle Paquet · Jean-Christophe Paré · Enzo Pauchet · Guillaume Pellay · Edouard Pelleray · Carole Perdereau · Julie Perrin · Katia Petrowick · Céline Peychet · Mickaël Phelippeau · Aubane Philbert · Zoé Philibert · Ana Pi · Pol Pi · Laurent Pichaud · Pablo Pillaud-Vivien · Maud Pizon · Léa Poiré · Cécile Proust · Myriam Pruvot · Annabelle Pulcini · Hélène Raimbault · Mathilde Rance · Elsa Raymond · Karine Rico-Perez · Alexandre Roccoli · Garance Roggero · Clémentine Rougier · Julie Salgues · Violeta Salvatierra · Jean-Jacques Sanchez · Anne Sanogo · Marcela Santander · Nina Santès · Lina Schlageter · Kanti Schmidt · Claire Serres · Marion Siéfert · Pauline Simon · Barbara Sirieix · Tilly Sordat · Danièle Soubeyrand · Matthieu Sparma · Betty Tchomanga · Ana Rita Teodoro · Cécile Tonizzo · Loïc Touzé · Pauline Tremblay · Myriam Van Imschoot · Luc Verbitzky · Clément Vercelletto · Julia Vercelli · Françoise Vergès · Jean-Baptiste Veyret-Logerias · Julie Viala · Margot Videcoq · Mathilde Villeneuve · Juliette Wagman · David Wampach · Mimi Wascher · Baudouin Woehl· Elisa Yvelin · La Buse · La Coordination des Intermittent·es et Précaires d’Ile-de-France · Mouvement HF ·

[1] Excerpt from a conversation between Yourgos Loukos and Karline Marion, mentioned in the newspaper 20 minutes, 07/02/20, available here.

[2] The «  Fédération nationale des syndicats du spectacle, du cinéma, de l’audiovisuel et de l’action culturelle (FNSAC-CGT)  » is a French worker’s union for artists and technicians from the performing arts, audiovisual and cinematic sectors.