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Flash Breaking News, 3-8: Artists Strike Back

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

PARIS, March 8, 10:20 p.m. -- Still outraged over a reduction in unemployment benefits that took effect two years ago, Intermittents or freelance performance artists tonight occupied the Theatre du Vieux Colombiers in the capital's toney 6th arrondisement near the Luxembourg Gardens, culminating two days of a national strike called by France's largest union, a handful of occupations, and cancelled performances throughout France, including at the Paris Opera Ballet and by Josef Nadj, and a day in which 5,000 Intermittents and their supporters demonstrated in front of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's office to demand the return of their full benefits.

The Theatre du Rond Point and the Theatre de Marigny, also in Paris, have also just been occupied, the Intermittents coordinating committee announced in the last ten minutes.

In the last few hours, the team involved with choreographer Nadj's "Poussiere de Soleil" has joined the strike and tonight's performance of the piece at the Theatre Municipal de Caen, in Normandy, has been cancelled. Veteran choreographers Eric Lamoureux and Hela Fattoumi, directors of the Centre Choregraphique National in Normandy, have also joined the strike, as have the centre's employees. All three choreographers were scheduled to dialogue with the public at the centre tonight on the Intermittents struggle.

The intermittents -- freelance dancers and other performance, television, and movie artists, as well as technicians so-called because their employment is 'intermittent' -- have continued protesting since employers, the right-wing national government, and minority unions agreed two years ago to drastically reduce their benefits, even after the Intermittents succeeded in shutting down festivals throughout France in the summer of 2003 to protest the new regime. Under the old system, freelance artists and technicians who clocked a combined 507 hours from all their employers during one year were then eligible for one year of unemployment benefits. The new system gives artists just 10.5 months to clock the hours and technicans 10 months, for which they now get not one year but eight months of benefits.

While the Intermittents and their allies in Parliament have continued to make proposals to abrogate or fix the new protocol, the Intermittents said in a statement today that "none of the(se) propositions has been taken into account" by government negotiators. The employers' syndicate, it said, "pursues its logic: the exclusion of the greatest number (of artists) with a system totally unadapted to our employment practices."

Responding to the strike call, the Paris National Opera, which includes the Paris Opera Ballet, cancelled last night's scheduled performance of Rudolph Nureyev's "La Bayadere" and tonight's of the opera "Rigoletto." Meanwhile, in Southern France, intermittents have tonight occupied the offices of the directors of the Avignon Festival, France's leading summer arts event. In Rennes, they've occupied the offices of the Direction Regional of Bretagne, according to the Intermittents' website, and 'retained' the agency's director and deputy director.

Also striking today are the entire technical and administrative staff of Paris-Villette, the artists and technicians of "Big-Bang," a show currently in rehearsal in Poitiers, the entire team of the play "Cris" in Belfort, the Theatre des Bernardines in Marseille, the staff of the Comedie theater of Picardie, the technical team of the Theatre Dijon-Bourgogne, the cast of "push-up," currently playing at the Theatre de la Tempete in Vincenne, all the full-time employees of the Theatre National de Bretagne, also in Rennes, Company Battement d'Elle in Orleans, the artists and technicians of the Atelier de Mecanique Generale Contemporaine in Bordeaux, as well as the administrative staff; and casts, technicians, and staff at theaters throughout France. Television and movie shoots have also been cancelled by the strike.

The Intermittents coordinating committee has called a general meeting for Thursday morning at 11 a.m. at the Theatre de la Colline in Paris to discuss the results of what it calls today's "pseudo-negotiations" organized by the government, and to decide the next steps for the movement.

For updates on strike actions and cancellations, check the Intermittents' website, which is being regularly updated tonight. For more on why this matters to freelance dancers all over the world, particularly in the United States, click here or here.


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