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Chase Johnsey Talks About Those Allegations Against the Trocks
On January 1st, Chase Johnsey resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. In a YouTube video, he outlined allegations of harassment and humiliation over his celebrated 14-year tenure with the company, ranging from discrimination for appearing too feminine to being told that he could no longer perform with the company should he choose to undergo a gender transition.
While the company has issued a statement denying Johnsey's claims of harassment, discrimination and retaliation, they have also hired an independent, outside expert to investigate the allegations. We caught up with Johnsey by phone in Barcelona, where he has decamped with his husband.
I was wondering if you could help me understand the culture of Trockadero as you see it. Do you think you were asked to be less feminine because being too realistic might take away the comedic aspect of the "guys in drag" gambit?
The thing about Trockadero is that all the dancers are different: some are hairy and muscular and some are like me, built like a pre-pubescent boy. I am gender queer and there is a rainbow of gender in the company. It was never about my masculinity (or lack thereof) among critics, and they did appreciate and acknowledge the seriousness with which I took my female roles.
When it came to the show, we were encouraged to be who we were. But in ballet class, it was a different story. We weren't allowed to express or present ourselves as we wanted; we couldn't wear our hair in buns. Even what you wore to the airport was monitored.
Johnsey has received critical acclaim for his interpretation of traditionally female roles, including a U.K. National Dance Award. Photo by Costas, Courtesy Johnsey
Were there clauses in your contract about your appearance or conduct?
There was no code of conduct, nor were there written guidelines about appearance.
And you had spoken up about this?
I had spoken with my artistic director [Tory Dobrin] about it several times. He always said he was concerned about how we would look in front of the crew and the presenters. Someone in the company once had to cut their hair because a television reporter assumed they were transgender. It was never acknowledged that it was unfair to ask this of us.
What was the final straw for you?
I decided to copy one board member on an email that described the harassment and bullying over our gender expression and identity. The artistic director said that the information in the email was not useful, and right away, I was retaliated against: I was not allowed to mentor other dancers, I was not allowed to speak out for other dancers, and a makeup sponsorship I had developed and managed for over two years for the company was taken away from me. After that I contacted two more board members, and was told they would need more dancers with allegations to launch an investigation. I followed up to let them know I had the stories of four current dancers and nine former company members. From then on the only response I received was silence. I decided to follow through on my threat to quit and did so on January 1st.
Johnsey preparing for a performance. Photo courtesy Johnsey
Will you be following up with a legal claim or suit?
Pending the outcome of the investigation, I will make a decision. If my claims are confirmed, then they may get rid of the management and hire me back as a dancer or as management. This would be the ideal situation for me. However, if the investigation is inconclusive or the claims are not confirmed, then I plan to take legal action.
Are you looking to become a director?
That is the really hard part, the organization had hinted that I might be the next director. But now it is unclear if that is possible. I have different visions of where I would want to see the company go. I would want to cast in a way that might change these classic stories. If Giselle was trans, the mad scene would be about her being displayed to the public. It would be a chance for a trans person to be taken seriously.
At the moment though, I still want to dance. The U.K. National Dance Awards are helping me try to find a job.
Photo courtesy Johnsey
In the meantime, how are you coping?
The dancers were so close-knit and such a family. No divas, never animosity. We just vented and coped. We tried to focus on our love of performing. But now, I am completely lost because my career is gone as far as me dancing as a ballerina. I have martyred myself for a cause I believe in.
Are you still interested in transitioning?
At this point, I call myself gender queer because I am not one gender more than another. I look male during the day time, but I am most comfortable performing as a woman. Women have been my heroes, and through women, I have strength. I aspire to have the strength of women.
So for now, I am happy with just being who I am, even if I do not fit any mold. The older I get, the less I feel like I have to apologize for it.
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.