December 19, 2018

facebook twitter linkedin tumblr google pinterest

Vulgar Texts and Dancer Turmoil Force City Ballet to Look in the Mirror

Vulgar Texts and Dancer Turmoil Force City Ballet to Look in the Mirror
Spread the love


The stage door of New York City Ballet is where dancers find fan mail, extravagant bouquets and the occasional request for autographed toe shoes.

But a very different sort of message was posted there anonymously in September as the company was preparing to open its fall season. It demanded “justice for the accused men of City Ballet,” called for a boycott of the company and urged people to “stop believing the word of jilted whores,” along with even cruder insults.

The country’s premier ballet company, which has defined grace, speed and precision since the days of its co-founder George Balanchine, is now also a stage for the era’s #MeToo convulsions.

Within the past nine months, it has weathered the abrupt retirement of its leader of more than three decades, Peter Martins, amid an investigation into reports of physical and emotional abuse. It forced out three of its 14 male principal dancers after they were accused of sharing texts of sexually explicit photos of women.

And it has begun to reassess its culture, installing safeguards now common in corporate America but far less so in the performing arts, where autocratic personalities often hold sway.

“We’ve really tried to make it a more nurturing environment, and not a kind of sink-or-swim environment, which in the dance world is kind of a common thing,” said Jonathan Stafford, the ballet master and former principal dancer who is leading the interim team running the company.

The loss of three principal male dancers on the eve of the ballet season was a big blow in a field where top-flight male talent is rare. There was also concern — even among some women — that two of the men might have been unfairly treated. (The author of the vulgar note on the stage door was never identified.)

But as more details of the texting allegations emerged in a lawsuit, a number of women in the company made it clear to management that they would not feel comfortable dancing with those men again, and some expressed dismay that their labor union was contesting their removal.

Suddenly, dancers typically seen but not heard were speaking out, internally and in public.

“For many months now, it has felt like so much in this dance world I have called my home and dedicated so much of my life, energy and vulnerability to has crumpled around me,” Sterling Hyltin, a principal dancer, lamented on her Instagram feed.

The company’s public soul-searching reached its apogee at Lincoln Center last week at the company’s fall gala, its most important and glittery fund-raiser of the year. When the curtain rose, the company’s dancers were standing on the stage, with an extraordinary message for the packed house.

“With the world changing — and our beloved institution in the spotlight — we continue to hold ourselves to the high moral standards that were instilled in us when we decided to become professional dancers,” Teresa Reichlen, a principal dancer, said as she read a statement that she had written with another dancer, Adrian Danchig-Waring, on behalf of the company.

“We strongly believe that a culture of equal respect for all can exist in our industry,” she continued. “We will not put art before common decency, or allow talent to sway our moral compass.”

Over the past year, revelations about mistreatment and brutish behavior have rocked the world of dance, a discipline that demands both close physical contact and grueling exactitude. Accusations of sexual and verbal harassment at the Paris Opera Ballet surfaced in the spring. The artistic director of the Finnish National Ballet was relieved of his managerial duties after he was accused of making inappropriate remarks to women about their appearance or private lives. (He apologized.) An open letter from several women alleging sexual harassment by the renowned artist and choreographer Jan Fabre has led to government investigations in Belgium. (Mr. Fabre has denied the accusations.)

For New York City Ballet, this has been among the most difficult periods in its history. Company officials said that they do not believe the problems have significantly cut into fund-raising; the fall gala raised $2.3 million, down from last year’s $2.6 million, a decline attributed to other factors. But the abrupt departure of Mr. Martins — who denied wrongdoing and had led the company since before most of its current dancers were born — divided the company, especially after City Ballet said its investigation had not corroborated the accusations against him.

The company began working to heal its wounds and foster a more open culture — starting an anonymous complaint system and annual performance evaluations with every dancer; offering more counseling for mental health, substance abuse, performance anxiety and nutrition; and making weight discussions more sensitive and discreet.

Then a photo-sharing scandal erupted, in the form of a lawsuit accusing City Ballet of fostering a “fraternity-like” atmosphere of drunken parties, sexually explicit images and raunchy, misogynist text messages.

The suit was filed by Alexandra Waterbury, a former student at the company’s affiliated academy, the School of American Ballet, who charged that her boyfriend, Chase Finlay, a principal dancer with the company, had shared texts of sexually explicit photos and videos of her that had been taken without her consent. Ms. Waterbury said she had discovered the offensive material after Mr. Finlay gave her the password to his computer so she could check her own email.

Mr. Finlay had been suspended over the summer following an incident in Paris where he had shown up apparently hung over for a matinee performance, raising concerns for the safety of his dance partners, company officials said. Mr. Finlay had already been given a warning before that for damaging a pipe in a hotel in Washington, causing flooding.

Mr. Finlay eventually resigned. Two other dancers who were accused of sharing explicit photos with him, Zachary Catazaro and Amar Ramasar, who was one of the company’s biggest stars, were initially suspended without pay, then fired.

Some who had danced with Mr. Ramasar for years were initially sad to see him go. In a show of support, several City Ballet dancers attended his final performance in the Broadway revival of “Carousel,” which happened to take place the day after he was fired.

But others were glad to see all three men gone, especially as more details of the allegations emerged.

Their union, the American Guild of Musical Artists, is planning to challenge the firings on the grounds that they “relate entirely to nonwork-related activity.” That did not sit well with some dancers, and it underscored how two of the union’s goals — protecting the jobs of members and ensuring employers provide safe working environments — can conflict. In a statement on its website, the union said that “recent allegations and terminations at New York City Ballet are under investigation and the needs of all members will be considered as the contract is enforced.”

A lawyer for Mr. Finlay, Ira Kleiman, called the lawsuit “nothing more than allegations that should not be taken as fact.” Mr. Ramasar, who was accused in Ms. Waterbury’s lawsuit of sending a photograph of a dancer’s vagina, said that he had shared only pictures of his own consensual sexual activity.

“I do take responsibility for my part in this,” he said in a statement. “I am by no means saying that I have not made mistakes, and humbly admit times when my better judgment has been skewed. The strong negative impact on the company and women involved is weighing heavily on all. I cannot change the past and hope to move forward having learned a great deal.”

The lawsuit named a ballet donor, Jared Longhitano, as a defendant as well, identifying him as the author of some of the most demeaning texts. “We should get like half a kilo and pour it over the ABT girls and just violate them,” the suit says he wrote to Mr. Finlay, apparently in reference to dancers at American Ballet Theater, another company. Mr. Longhitano declined to comment.

At the suggestion of some of the dancers, the company is donating an amount equivalent to Mr. Longhitano’s contributions, about $12,000, to a local charity focused on women’s issues.

In a statement, Mr. Catazaro denied involvement in sharing “Alexandra Waterbury’s personal material” and added that “these circumstances could happen to anyone, in any profession, when personal and private communications are involved but where the intent was not to harm or embarrass anyone.”

The company, meanwhile, remains without a replacement for Mr. Martins. “Though this behavior was carried out by a few highly visible men alone, it was allowed to fester in our currently leaderless state,” Ashley Bouder, a principal dancer, wrote on Instagram last month. “May we find a moral and fair individual to lead us out of this darkness and into future respect, integrity and success.”

The company, newly intent on giving a voice to its dancers, set up an elaborate procedure to find a leader to succeed Mr. Martins, holding town hall-style meetings to hear the concerns of dancers and setting up mechanisms for company members to give their input privately and anonymously. When the company eventually created a job posting, it called for a “humane leader.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Scandals Tear At House Built By Balanchine. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe





Source link

More from my site

About The Author

Related posts

Leave a Reply