PARIS (Reuters) – Ballerinas in white tutus danced scenes from Swan Lake on the forecourt of the Paris Opera on Tuesday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to scrap their special pension benefits.
Backed by musicians from the Paris Symphony Orchestra, the dancers performed their impromptu 20-minute rendition before hundreds of onlookers. Behind them were banners reading “Culture in danger.”
Paris Opera dancers have a bespoke pension plan dating back to the 17th century. It includes the right to retire on a full pension at the age of 42, two decades earlier than the average worker.
They stand to lose those benefits if Macron pushes ahead with a planned overhaul of a convoluted pension system that he says will be fairer, incentives workers to stay in the labor force until 64 and balance the pension budget.
“We start classical dance at the age of 8. By our late teenage years, we’re getting recurring injuries,” said ballerina Heloise Jocqueviel. “Once you reach the age of 42, you’re already suffering from arthritis, stress fractures, hernias and in some cases titanium hips.
“It’s hard to maintain a level of excellence until 42, but 64 seems impossible.”
The dancers have been on strike alongside other public sector workers, including performers from the state-run Comedie Francaise, since Dec. 5. Dozens of shows have been canceled.
The strikes have caused travel chaos, forced schools to close and prompted refinery shut downs. Macron and his government refuse to back down but will resume negotiations with trade unions in early January.
The Paris Opera house said it had lost nearly 8 million euros in ticket sales.
“It’s important to defend the quality of the Paris Opera,” said Jacques Peigne, the father of one opera house ballerina. “It’s obvious they are not able to dance any older than 42.”
Reporting by Lucien Libert and Pascal Antonie; writing by Richard Lough; editing by Nick Macfie