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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.