Swanning off, the Ballet Boss Accused of Affairs; Covent Garden Is Swept by Rumours about the Director and His Dancers

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THE artistic director of the Royal Ballet resigned last night amid accusations of sexual liaisons with ballerinas and a series of behind-the scenes rows.

Ross Stretton announced that leaving his job was 'the most appropriate course of action'.

The 49-year- old Australian made no reference, however, to rumours sweeping the 90- strong company as he departed.

Last night insiders explained that his appointment in August 2001 had left the Royal Ballet deeply divided. Dancers have even threatened to strike.

Mr Stretton, who is married to a former dancer and has three children, is said to have had relationships with a number of ballerinas. None would speak publicly about their experiences.

'The ballet world has been ablaze with talk about this man in recent weeks and there has been a lot of discord with threats of a strike and accusations of abuse of position,' one insider at the company said.

Another added: 'He was universally disliked and led to many complaints from dancers.

' There were threats of strikes, union involvement and rows over his casting decisions.

'The board say he resigned but actually he was sacked and left the building quickly.' Mr Stretton was appointed artistic director in March 2000 following the retirement of Sir Anthony Dowell.

He took up his post in August the following year and was only a third of his way through a three-year contract.

Last night, in a prepared statement, he said: 'The last 18 months have been enormously challenging and rewarding both professionally and personally. …