By Maria Clara C Pestre
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters)

Rio de Janeiro‘s opulent Municipal Theatre has gone quiet this year as months of unpaid wages emptied its calendar of major works and pushed many ballerinas and opera singers into poverty

The gold and marble theater located in Rio’s historic downtown had celebrated the wealth of the city when it was built at the turn of the 20th century. But now, dancers’ dwindling performance schedules and their ragged ballet slippers reveal just how far Rio has fallen.

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
Bruno Fernandes (R), 33, a member of the Municipal Theatre Ballet Corps, and other dancers attend a ballet class in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

“It’s gotten to the point that, it’s funny to say, I don’t even have money for a bus ticket. I could pay my basic bills and feed myself or I could pay for the bus,” said dancer Bruno Fernandes, a member of the Municipal Theatre Ballet Corps.

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
Deborah Ribeiro, lead solo ballerina at Municipal Theatre, poses for a picture inside the theatre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

The 33-year-old now pedals to training on a borrowed bike, but three crashes in hectic Rio traffic have left him with an inflamed hip that he fears could shorten his career.

Salaries have been delayed intermittently since 2015 as Rio’s finances began to falter from a deep recession and the cost of hosting the 2016 Olympic Games. But dancers and singers say the crisis now is unprecedented in the theater’s history.

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
Ballerinas of Municipal Theatre ballet school, prepare backstage before a rehearsal for their year-end performance, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

Fernandes is among a group of theater staff who have not received salaries since November, including an obligatory year-end bonus for 2017 that Brazilians count on.

The theater is funded by the Rio state government, which said it is working to correct the situation.

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
Ballet dancers of Municipal Theatre attend a ballet class in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

“The delay is not the result of a lack of importance the administration places on the theater, but a lack of available cash resources,” Rio state’s finance agency told Reuters in a statement. “The salaries will be paid as fast as possible in accordance with resources available.”

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
Ballet dancers of Municipal Theatre attend a ballet class in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 14, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

Rio state’s massive deficit this year led to cut backs in essential services like policing, causing the national government to send in the army to quell violence at times, and prompting a federal rescue plan announced in September to help stabilize the state’s finances.

 

The Wider Image: Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
A dancer’s ballet slipper is seen during a ballet class at Municipal Theatre in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

A first installment of a 2.9 billion-reais (655 million pounds) loan allowed the state government on Wednesday to pay Municipal Theatre workers their unpaid 2016 year-end bonuses as well as October salaries. Another installment expected to be released in January will go toward November salaries, the state finance agency said.

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
Bruno Fernandes, 33, a member of the Municipal Theatre Ballet Corps, leaves home to go to a ballet class in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil November 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

In the meantime, many performers have taken up odd jobs. One dancer has even sold off some furniture, started driving a mototaxi and teaching lessons in a makeshift home studio with his cat looking on.

Another performer has done the same.

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
A ballerina of Municipal Theatre dances during a protest of the theatre’s artists against the non-payment of their salaries and the economic crisis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 13, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

“I teach singing, I apply Reiki (Japanese alternative medicine), I have a small shop in my house, I organize events,” said Monica Maciel, a singer for the theater since 1999. “I do it all, everything I can.”

Dozens of dancers continue to attend exacting rehearsals and refine their craft with each leap and pirouette. But they say insufficient sleep as they work  and lack of money for expenses like ballet pointer shoes, physical therapy and nutrition regimens is taking its toll.

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
Anderson Dionisio, a ballet dancer of Municipal Theatre, changes his clothes after a ballet class as donated food lies next to him, in Rio de janeiro, Brazil December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

Girls in pink tutus still attend lessons despite the poor prospects on display for a career ballerina.

The slow artistic starvation can be as much of strain as poor finances. In the past year, the theater put on a cantata and an opera with volunteers, but none of its traditional ballet performances.

“For an artist, to not be on the stage, to not put your work on stage is a thing that will kill us little by little,” said Deborah Ribeiro, the theater’s lead solo ballerina.

 

(Reporting by Maria Clara Pestre; Writing by Jake Spring; editing by Diane Craft)

 

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
Municipal Theatre is seen in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

Financial crisis leaves Rio ballerinas struggling
A ballerina of Municipal Theatre ballet school prepares ahead of her year-end performance, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 10, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

 

Keep reading (more images ahead) …