Cold ballet dancers strike over a question of degree

IT WAS exactly one degree colder than the Equity national ruling and the cast of The Nutcracker finally cracked. The Sugar Plum Fairy reached for her Equity rulebook and stood her ground. The Nutcracker Suite became the bitter suite.

The possibilities are endless, though they are unlikely to raise a chuckle from the 1,600 people who paid pounds 30,000 and left without seeing the English National Ballet on Monday night. Tchaikov sky's opus, which has survived decades of performances in sub-zero Moscow temperatures, met its match in Manchester, and a combination of a chilly night and a dicky heating system.

The ENB decided not to perform at the Manchester Palace Theatre after the temperature fell to 64F. The company cited an Equity ruling that it had to be 66F for them to perform. The corps de ballet limbered up, watched as the thermometer failed to move, called a union meeting and called off the performance.

But yesterday the tale grew even more curious as it emerged that the company was not acting in line with Equity's ruling after all. An Equity spokesman said the national agreement stated the temperature on stage must be 65F for dancers to perform, not 66F. So the dancers were in their rights not to go on, but the argument was over a single degree.

Yesterday the company was sticking to its guns. A spokesman said that if the performance had gone ahead it would have risked 'significant personal injury' to members of the cast. Once the curtain went up, he said, cold air from the auditorium would have brought the temperature down further. Most dancers, he added, feel the minimum should be 70F. Monday's patrons would be offered a full refund.

But an Equity spokesman said: 'The national Equity agreement says dancers should not perform if the temperature is less than 65F. My understanding is that the temperature reached 64F and the dancers gave fair warning they would not go on.'

Last night, after checking its documentation, the company said it had negotiated a separate amendment to have a 66F figure for its performances. Support for the company's stance came from Dr Victor Cross, medical adviser to the Birmingham Royal Ballet. He said: 'However ridiculous it sounds, these dancers were really at risk. Injuries are on the increase. Pulled muscles and stress fractures are commonplace in all dance companies. And as any dancer knows, any failure to warm the body up properly only aggravates the threat.'

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