BALLET dancers and chorus members at one of the world's most famous opera houses, La Scala in Milan, have walked out over a series of protests described as surreal, causing the last-minute cancellation of the opening night of the theatre's ballet season.
The heavily unionised dancers are fighting the use in Romeo and Juliet of a stage with a 10-degree slope which they say gives them backache, while chorus members are refusing to obey the choreographer's request that they move in time to the music.
''These performers are not machines,'' says Giancarlo Albori, an official with Italy's CGIL union.
The behind-the-scenes drama began when 16 of the 74 chorus members were asked to sing in costume on stage.
''We are talking about 20 minutes during an hour-and-45-minute performance,'' a La Scala spokesman says.
The chorus demanded a €600 ($755) bonus per performance for each of the 16, and €400 for the other singers - a request that was turned down, he says. ''They are on stage regularly in operas like Rigoletto and Lohengrin, as well as in some ballets, but they claimed it was not in their contract for ballets.''
Albori countered that going on stage also meant singing from memory, without a score. ''They were given no time for rehearsing,'' he says. The tilted stage, he adds, is downright dangerous. But the spokesman challenges the claim, saying it has already been used in a production in Paris.
The strike is the latest in a long line of such protests .
''This is the theatre of the absurd,'' the Italian daily Corriere della Sera said. ''Today there is a payment for leaning over. Next they will be asking extra for putting on a leotard.''
The strike comes as funding to Italy's 14 opera houses is reduced. La Scala has lost €7 million in public subsidy this year.
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