statement simona noja

I. Preamble
I have been in the ballet scene for many years: first as a pupil, then as an international Principal Dancer; in 21 years I had over 2000 performances on the most renowned stages in the world, I won prizes at international ballet competitions, I was honored by the Romanian state and I have received the Austrian Award – „The Cross of Honor for Art and Culture 1st Class“. Since 2018 I am a PhD student at the University of Babes-Bolyai in Cluj-Napoca (Romania) and am writing my dissertation in Romanian (it will also be published in English) about the education of the ballet dancer: “Theory and Practice: a Study of Elemental Foundations and Developmental Strategies in Nurturing Creative Personality for Young Ballet Dancers of Today ”. I am an Austrian citizen, wife and mother of two children and since 10 years I have been leading the Ballet Academy of the Vienna State Opera.

As it is well known, over the last year, the Ballet Academy has gone through turbulent times; the ensuing irritations, not only preoccupied the Youth advocate and the Work Inspectorate, but also the cooperation schools, former and current pupils and their parents, pedagogues, pianists and the entire administrative staff, and it caused upheaval in national and international mass- media. As a result, the prosecuting authorities were informed and a special commission set up by Gernot Blümel, the Minister for EU Art, Culture and the Media, was tasked with a complete clarification of the issues. Since April 2019, the commission has used its specific and complex methods during various work processes to collect the truth-relevant data.

Until today, January 1st 2020, the prosecuting authorities had not yet issued its final report, but the commission did; it has presented the recommendations in a final report and, based upon it consequently, the Minister Alexander Schallenberg the successor of Gernot Blümel, decided upon my dismissal from the position of director of the Ballet Academy of the Vienna State Opera.

II. FACTS and ACHIEVEMENTS over the past 10 years
Due to my initiative, the following changes have been made to the Ballet Academy of the Vienna State Opera since 2010:
Transforming of the former “Ballet School of the Vienna State Opera” into today’s “Ballet Academy of the Vienna State Opera” (2013).
Increasing the area of selection field for the students and teachers- there are currently 31 nationalities among the students and teachers;
Tours / Audition Tours to attract young people to the Ballet Academy: within Austria in Carinthia, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Tyrol and Vorarlberg; outside Austria in Czech Republic, Japan, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain;
The founding of the Youth Company of the Ballet Academy (2013) in order to create a professional transition platform for our graduates into their career´s start;
The start of the “Summer Program”, in which ballet students from all over the world can train together with our students, giving young ballet students an important opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from each other. It has also provided the Vienna State Opera with an additional source of income ( the 7th edition this year).
More than 1150 performances helped our young artists to develop, had an essential role for their stage experience, absolutely necessary for a professional career;
Competitions Success: Over 100 prizes at various national and international ballet competitions (2011 – 2019) in Austria as well as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, China, Germany, Estonia, France, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Romania, Russia, Spain, Turkey and in the USA;
More than 90% of our graduates got an engagement in the Vienna State Ballet, in the Youth Company of the Vienna State Opera or in other opera houses across the world; 40% of the ballet dancers of the Vienna State Ballet are former graduates of the Ballet Academy – two of them have even advanced to the position of principal dancers within the past three years. Before September 2010, the quota of the graduates admitted to the main company was ca. 25%.

III. SUCCESSES of the Quality Management in the period 01.09. – 20.12.2019
As Executive Director since 2010 and as full Director of the Ballet Academy from September 1st 2019, neither the signature of official contracts representing the institution in all the official matters, nor the attribution of making any kind of structural changes at the level of Quality Management was within my authority; in all official matters it was my duty to inform my 3 superiors, a task which I have always fulfilled; due to the events, a swift intervention was absolutely necessary, therefore I acted immediately proposing several measures and then implemented them only with the consent of my superiors.
Management Level:
Reorganization of the whole administration structure of the Ballet Academy and development of the new organizational chart;
Restructuring, task allocation and responsibility of the expanded administration team of the Ballet Academy;
Job descriptions and function descriptions for the positions to be filled in the administration team;
Development of new offices occupancy;
Team building of the newly formed, expanded administration team after the application process of over 120 people and the training of the three newly selected employees;

Advanced Education for the pedagogues
Together with the Academy of Federal Sports Vienna, I / we have succeeded to put the base of the first structured, fundamental component for the training of the pedagogues in the Ballet Academy; besides educating ballet dancers, educating pedagogues represents one main task anchored in the Federal Theater Organization, a task that has never been seriously taken into consideration over the years until this autumn.
I hope that in the future building blocks as supplementary modules in Training of Trainers and a Ballet Pedagogy Study would follow.
Through the course of Instructors “Fit – health-oriented and preventive training” has been created in autumn of 2019 an appealing training concept adjusted to the special needs of the Ballet Academy which would be carried out in 2020. Our collaboration was considered by the Academy of Federal Sports as extraordinary productive and constructive;

Child Assistance for the pupils
Thanks to the cooperation with the Federal Institute for Competitive and Top-class Sport “Leistungssport Austria”, I / we have successfully been able to implement his autumn a comprehensive scientific, sports medical and therapeutic care of the students in the form of examinations (including medical examination, physiocheck, anthropometry, nutrition, psychological testing and the development of tests for the high performance in sports science). The health care also includes the introduction of physiotherapy and massage on the premises of the Ballet Academy; the Health Program teaching hours includes subjects such as: nutrition, anthropometry, injury prevention, physiotherapy and body awareness.

Furthermore, during the application process this autumn two psychologists, one for the children and one as supervision for the teachers have been selected on the new created positions. They have started their work in November 2019.

Child Protection Concept
As I am not authorized to represent the institution externally – responsibility that belongs exclusively to my superiors – I could still initiate the first important steps in shaping and implementing of the child and youth protection guidelines – part of a bigger child protection concept – that has until now not existed in any other ballet school in Austria.
The timetable and the schedule were developed by experts and adapted to the needs of the Ballet Academy; the first two training sessions for the teaching staff and one for the child protection officers have already taken place.

As a human, artist, pedagogue and citizen of a democratic European state, I present my awareness of the facts as a plea for the re-establishing of the moral and personal dignity of the 136 children of the Ballet Academy and their parents, 15 pedagogues, 8 pianists, as well as the entire extended administration team, so that I can remain faithful to the responsibility towards these 169 people, as I have always been in the past 10 years:

Respect for children’s rights
Protection of the child is of paramount importance; child protection is an issue that I personally consider essential and indispensable for the education system. All measures initiated and already implemented had the meaning to protect the young people entrusted to me / us. Unfortunately, as it has been shown during last months, instead of a dialogue, necessary for every democratic society, the decisions have been made without letting the accused people speak. This leaves the impression, that instead of the real search for the truth, the methods of the research had only the purpose to accuse and hurt the activity of this traditional institution and people working there.

Respect for Human Dignity
The dignity of the current team of pedagogues and pianists of the Ballet Academy has been violated. Their daily real work with pupils has neighter been seen nor evaluated by any of those responsible from the Commission or Ministry. Their written statements have not been taken into consideration nor been included in the final report. The reason given was: “to maintain neutrality”.
All positive opinions of the parents of current students at the Ballet Academy or other internationally recognized artists were not taken into account.
All changes that have been implemented this autumn, from September 1st until December 20th 2019, taken accordingly with among the best Austrian specialists have not been seen in their comprehensive function, but were minimalized as “only treating symptoms”.
The Commission published its results in a 34-page report on December 17th 2019. The same day in a press conference to which no one from Vienna State Opera was invited, the chairwoman of the commission mentioned new negative information that might have taken place in the Ballet academy, details that were not mentioned in any way in the commission’s final report and of which nobody from the staff of the Ballet Academy has ever been informed.
The principle sui generis, with which the commission started the discussions with the 24 questioned people, was as follows: “You are kindly asked to provide truthful information, but there is no legal obligation towards the commission to provide a truthful statement”. This though should have been the very fundamental basis for the research of this commission, nothing but the precise uncovering of the truthful facts; in its absence, the dignity of the investigated people has been hurt; because the team, the pedagogues and the pianists were not involved at all in the survey and were unable to comment it in any way, a great injustice has been done to them.
Hereby I urge that we can present our view of things, that our values are recognized, that the morality and the professional dignity of the entire team of the Ballet Academy of the Vienna State Opera, and thereby also my moral and professional dignity are restored, and our good reputation, achieved through honest and long-standing professional work, is re-established and respected.

Leave a Reply