Four dancers with the Royal New Zealand Ballet are fighting to keep their jobs and have filed personal grievances after their contracts were not renewed.

It's understood close to half of the current 36 dancers employed by the national ballet company will have left by the new year, not all by choice - less than six months after a new artistic director took over.

It's the second year in a row the national ballet company, which in the 2016 financial year received $4.88m in government funding, has gone through an artistic upheaval.

Late last year it was reported as many as 12 dancers and other staff left the country's only classical ballet company - three or four of them due to issues with the then-artistic director of almost three years Francesco Ventriglia.


Less than six months later Ventriglia handed over the helm to Patricia Barker, formerly artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet in Michigan in the United States.

Wellington lawyer David Patten, who was the dancers' union secretary, said around 16 of the dancers were leaving, some were retiring, others dancing elsewhere and "at least four" did not have contracts renewed.

The dancers were still in negotiations with the company so Patten was unable to elaborate further on the details of the personal grievances beyond saying it was to do with the non-renewal of contracts.

Previously Patten said dancers had been under the impression these contracts would be renewed on an annual basis.

"Contracts have traditionally been for 12 months unless a dancer has not performed in that 12-month period, the contracts are typically renewed, subject to that dancer wanting to stay with the company."

While he said the renewals were not written into the contracts the practice had been for them to be renewed "unless something untoward has happened".

RNZB media spokesman Jeremy Brick confirmed in a statement "a small number" of dancers hadn't had their contracts renewed for 2018.

A number of dancers had left throughout the year to retire or take up other dancing positions, and said 16 would have left by this year's end but said it wasn't a "mass exodus".


"Like most ballet companies around the world, RNZB dancers are on annual contracts. It is the nature of the profession that, as careers are short, dancers may choose to move from company to company, in order to explore new opportunities or repertoire. Some dancers will be leaving the RNZB at the end of 2017 to take up positions in companies overseas," the statement said.

"Many dancers retire from the stage in their early 30s, and there are three dancers choosing to retire from the RNZB at the end of 2017; one dancer will also be taking parental leave in 2018. Six dancers with close ties to Europe chose to depart during the year to take up opportunities closer to home. As has been the case in previous years, a small number of dancers employed by the company during 2017 have not been offered contracts for 2018."

It's understood Wellington-born dancer Alayna Ng who has been with the company since 2007 was one of those planning to retire from life as a dancer.

Of those leaving for other companies were Tonia Looker, Kohei Iwamoto and Isabella Swietlicki, who would be joining the Queensland ballet, to join ex-RNZB dancer Lucy Green - one of the stars of TV3's The Secret Lives of Dancers.

Looker, originally from Australia, has been with the RNZB since 2008. Iwamoto, originally from Japan, has been with the RNZB since 2010 and Swietlicki came to the company from the English National Ballet at the start of this year.

Queensland Ballet's artistic director Li Cunxin said in a public statement this week he was delighted to welcome the dancers into the family.


"Both of these dancers are incredibly accomplished and talented and both have been standouts as part of the RNZB ensemble."

Executive director Frances Turner wished all the dancers the best and said incoming dancers would be named in the New Year.

No open auditions for replacement dancers were currently being advertised by the RNZB though it does have an invitation on its site for dancers to send in expressions of interest.

However, RNZB spokesman Jeremy Brick said open auditions were held every year at a time that was convenient for the New Zealand School of Dance students.

He said notice of these auditions were widely advertised around the dance industry.

Despite earlier reports from sources in the dance industry indicating no dancers had been employed from the national dance school, the RNZB today announced its 2018 roster will include 2018's Todd Scholar, Luke Cooper, who was born in Palmerston North and graduated from the New Zealand School of Dance at the end of 2016.


Meanwhile the RNZB recently announced two others from the Grand Rapids Ballet, where Barker was previously artistic director, would be joining its ranks.

Nicholas and Laura Schultz would be leaving their roles as ballet masters to join current RNZB ballet master, Clytie Campbell, in the new year.

The role of the ballet master is to assist choreographers during the setting of works and to help dancers daily perfect their roles, alongside the artistic director.