Controversy at La Scala

Mariafrancesca Garritano

Last week in the Guardian Judith Mackrell wrote an article entitiled “The light fantastic? Ballet dancers and anorexia“, which discussed the sacking of La Scala soloist Mariafrancesca Garritano over comments she has made that have appeared in the press about the pressure that ballerinas are put under to diet.

According to the article, Garritano believes that as a result of this pressure eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia are commonplace among ballerinas, affecting as many as one in five dancers.

Many of Miss Garritano’s peers have since openly disagreed with her statements, suggesting that she is referring to her own experiences of 15 years ago and that things are very different nowadays.

Ballerinas and Weight

The subject of ballerinas and weight has been a staple source of debate for decades within the dance world. However, last year it entered the public consciousness globally upon release of the film “Black Swan”, which shows a scene implying (fairly explicitly) that the central character “Nina” is bulimic. Media focus on the dark tone of the movie and Nina’s disturbing psychological state, also extended to the alleged 20lbs in weight that dropped from Natalie Portman’s already slim body during filming.

ABC News Interview with Natalie Portman – Dec 3rd 2010

The Truth, Please, About Ballet

The Truth, Please, About Ballet

The physique seemingly preferred by ballet company managers and directors for today’s ballerina is generally attributed to George Balanchine. The “Balanchine body” (long, slender limbs and a skeletal physique that emphasises the collarbone and neck areas) is also a look harshly favoured by many ballet critics (an observation that Natalie Portman makes in the interview).

In terms of Miss Garritano’s views about the physique and eating habits of dancers, media interest in her comments on this subject has grown since the release of her 2010 book “La ver­ità, vi prego, sulla danza!” (The Truth, Please, About Ballet). In her book she openly details the pressures she experienced as a young dancer, the eating disorders she believes arose as a result and the consequential health problems she suffers from today.

Sharing her views and experiences on this matter was always likely to generate controversy; something the dancer herself acknowledged at the time stating that it would likely damage her career.

This story raises a number of questions.

Is Mariafrancesca Garritano right to speak so openly? Is La Scala wrong to fire her for her comments? Has her publishing company deliberately promoted aspects of the book it knows are sensational and controversial?

And in a wider vein…

Do dance companies do enough to protect their dancers’ health? Should lessons in nutrition be made compulsory in dance schools? Should all dance companies be forced to weigh their dancers each month to make certain they are eating correctly?

What do you think?

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3 Responses to “Controversy at La Scala”

  1. D peters #

    I am afraid the diet-for life way of living is instilled in ballet dancers from a very young age. My daughter was at the Royal Ballet School. Snacks were locked away from the girls and they were encouraged to diet. They were weighed every week and their weights were shouted out for all to hear. If you had put weight on you were frowned upon.
    The ballet world will never change!!!!

    February 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm
  2. Marie #

    I think honesty is very important but difficult to achieve:
    I recently looked at pictures of Claude Bessy when she was still dancing: The lady had curves! And she looked gorgeous!
    To me, it only seems a matter of time before the ballet world has to go through the type of changes the modelling industry started a couple of years ago around the whole size 0 controversy. Let’s just hope we don’t need a similar disaster to trigger it.

    February 17, 2012 at 1:26 pm
  3. ‘Is Mariafrancesca Garritano right to speak so openly?’ Naturally, by speaking openly we can help others as well as ourselves and I’m certain airing her viewpoint will have been very cathartic for Ms Garritano.

    There will always be some who take things to extremes or bow to pressure, etc. so I feel it more important to put the emphasis on healthy emotions and self esteem. If we go through life self assured and contented with who we are as people, we will only do what’s right for us. Gx

    February 17, 2012 at 12:57 pm