Dancers scream abuse as 'saviour' boss is sacked

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The artistic director of Scottish Ballet has accused its board of orchestrating a "stitch-up" after he was suddenly sacked and told the company is to be reinvented as a contemporary dance outfit.

Robert North, hailed as the saviour of the ballet on his appointment two years ago, has been told his contract will not be renewed when it runs out next year.

He learnt of the news just hours before it was broken to ballet members as part of an announcement detailing a radical change of direction for the 30-year-old company. To the sound of jeering from the assembled dancers, chief executive Chris Barron revealed plans to scrap classical productions like The Nutcracker in favour of smaller-scale, more "modern" performances.

Now Mr North, who claims the overwhelming backing of the 36-strong company, has accused Mr Barron of jeopardising the future of the ballet by turning his back on its core aims. And he has vowed to stay put, calling instead for the mass resignation of the board over what he has branded its "unethical" decision to announce a new direction without consulting him first.

"It's been a stitch-up," he said. "It's certainly unethical and it's possibly illegal. However you look at it, there seems to have been a total lack of due process. I've no intention of leaving. We are going to fight this right to the end. The board is supposed to be there to enshrine and protect the future of the company, and they couldn't be doing less to do that. When the dancers were first told about the new direction there were terrible scenes. They were crying and screaming abuse at the chief executive. It was terrible to see young girls crying like that. The scenes were horrendous."

In an open letter to the ballet last week, former board member Robert Cohan backed Mr North's criticisms: "I have been a creator, supporter and defender of contemporary dance all my life and I wish I could support this so-called re-positioning of Scottish Ballet, but I fear it spells the end of a national Scottish dance company."

The wave of criticisms was unleashed as Mr North narrowly managed to avoid his career at Scottish Ballet being brought to an even more premature end. Last week, the American-born artistic director was given 10 days to leave the country or face prison by the Home Office after it emerged that he had been working in Britain illegally ever since he first took the job. Officials are believed to have bungled his application for an extended work permit, but he managed to avoid deportation at the last minute when the ballet rushed through the paperwork retrospectively.

Responding to Mr North's tirade, Mr Barron said that the board had carefully considered before deciding not to renew his contract. He added: "What we are doing in moving towards more contemporary dance is actually a logical extension of what's been going on for some time. We have already consulted widely in the past, and what we now need is leadership."