Royal Theatre leader criticised for protecting ballet dancers by brushing drug problem under rug. An internal report on the Royal Danish Ballet leaked to the press last week alleges that a culture of cocaine abuse, stemming from the artistic director down to the ballet corps, pervades the prestigious company.
The leaked report with its charges of growing cocaine use came just three weeks after the Royal Ballet returned from a west-to-east coast US tour, its largest in 50 years – with international fundraising among its goals.
The leaked report was commissioned by the Royal Ballet itself in order to evaluate its operating and working conditions. Consultant Helle Hein, PhD, who had previously done an in-depth study of the Royal Ballet from 2005-2008 was hired for the job.
For the new study Hein interviewed some 55 of the ballet’s 92 employees, and was told about a widespread and growing cocaine problem in the corps and of cocaine abuse and erratic, abusive behaviour by artistic director Nikolaj Hübbe.
But none of the employees who made those claims are identified in the report, which claims that “the dancers see a correlation between the ballet director’s use of psychedelic drugs and his inconsistent behaviour”.
Hübbe and Erik Jacobsen, the head of the Danish Royal Theatre, which is responsible for the Royal Ballet, dismissed the allegations as “undocumented rumours”.
But culture commentators and politicians from the opposition criticised Jacobsen, in particular, for suppressing the controversial report for two months, as well as dismissing it as unproven when it was leaked to the press.
Hein delivered her finished report to Jacobsen on May 1, just a few weeks before the Royal Ballet began its US tour in California. Jacobsen oriented the theatre’s board of directors as to its contents. However, the board first saw the actual report when Hein decided to forward it to them herself, according to Politiken newspaper.
That led to a meeting of the board on June 22, just three days after the Royal Ballet finished their US tour in New York City. During the meeting, the board gave Jacobsen and the Royal Theatre’s management its full support in their handling of the situation and the report remained a company secret.
Last week, however, Jyllands-Posten newspaper obtained a leaked copy of the report and the story went public. Several ballet dancers, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told both Jyllands-Posten and Politiken that the claims of cocaine abuse were true.
“After the premier of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (in 2010, ed.) four or five young dancers came down in the elevator from [Hübbe’s] office. The youngest was 19, and they told everybody in the room that they had just done cocaine with [Hübbe],” one dancer told Jyllands-Posten.
None of the four dancers who spoke to Jyllands-Posten reports personally seeing Hübbe take cocaine.
In a written statement to the press early Thursday morning, Jacobsen criticised the employees who spoke anonymously, writing that Hübbe and the other dancers “don’t deserve this anonymous suspicion”. Hübbe himself denied the allegations.
In a short written statement from the Royal Theatre on Friday, Hübbe said, “I am deeply shaken, offended and very unhappy about the baseless rumours that have been going around. I don’t have anything more to say.”
Nevertheless, Hübbe is quoted in the internal report as saying: “Nobody lives in New York for 15 years without trying cocaine.” He joined the New York City Ballet as a principle dancer in 1992 and returned to Copenhagen in 2008 to direct the Royal Ballet.
On Thursday the culture minister, Per Stig Møller, told the Royal Danish Theatre’s leadership to stop dodging and deal with the mounting controversy.
When the story was first leaked, Møller himself had downplayed the report, calling the allegations an “internal personnel affair”. Later, however, as criticism from commentators and opposition politicians grew, he changed that message and urged Jacobsen and the theatre’s leaders to “take care of the problem”. Møller emphasised, however, that he was confident they would deal with the issue properly.
At the board meeting held to address the report’s allegations, Hübbe is said to have offered to take a urine test on the spot, to prove he was not on drugs. The Royal Theatre’s leadership did not take him up on the offer.
“We can’t throw suspicion on people in that way,” Jacobsen told Jyllands-Posten. “In a society governed by the rule of law we are obliged to take people at their word, even if there are well-documented complaints.”
But Anders Drejer, a professor in leadership and economics from Aalborg University, told Politiken that a urine test was probably the only way that Hübbe and the Royal Ballet could squash the scandal.
“There is no other way to make this controversy go away than for Nikolaj Hübbe to piss in the cup, just as he has offered to do,” Drejer said.
“It’s not enough that the theatre’s leader Erik Jacobsen declares that he has confidence that Hübbe is telling the truth when Hübbe denies taking cocaine. For the sake of the ballet’s employees and the public a test needs to be produced.”
Jørn Thaning is an addiction specialist who has worked with the Royal Theatre since 2003, helping its employees overcome drug and alcohol dependencies. He said the Royal Ballet has no more drug-addicted employees than other workplaces do.
“In the last year and a half I haven’t had one dancer in therapy for either cocaine or pill abuse,” Thaning told DR Kultur. “There was one with alcohol problems. And after summer I will most likely be treating one person for cocaine addiction.”
Thaning added that there could be more cases of cocaine addiction than he is aware of, since he only treats those who ask for help or are referred by a colleague. “If they don’t perform badly, we can’t tell,” Thaning said.
He added, however, that eating disorders were a bigger problem than drug addiction among weight-conscious ballet dancers.
Foreningen Den Kongelige Ballet, the Royal Ballet’s employee union, also announced its support for Hübbe, claiming that while the ballet was by no means perfect, the union’s members did not agree with the conclusions in the leaked report.
“This case does not change our support for Nikolaj. He still has our trust,” the dancers wrote in the press statement.