Amar Ramasar in Carousel. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy DKC/O&M

The Dance Community Responds to NYCB's Firing of Amar Ramasar & Zachary Catazaro

New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)

The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Katherine Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:

"We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet."

Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.


The Two Dancers Speak Out

Catazaro's manager shared this statement via email, which Catazaro also posted on social media:

"I am deeply saddened by New York City Ballet's termination of my contract. I have been a dedicated and respected member of my beloved company for 11 years, fulfilling all of my obligations of rehearsals and performances, and everything else under my contract, while most importantly, giving my all to create the most artistic performances possible, for our audiences.

Firstly, I want to clarify that I did not initiate, was not involved in, or associated with any of Alexandra Waterbury's personal material that was allegedly shared with others.

Although I was initially suspended for other private and personal communications, the NYCB dancers' union--AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists)--maintains that these communications were during off-work hours, and do not justify termination.

Clearly, the negative press from the lawsuit filed by Ms. Waterbury--in which I stress that I have not been named as a defendant--has caused harm to the company's reputation, as well as mine. 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.

I have worked my whole life to reach the level of Principal Dancer at a company having the highest prestige, and I am devastated at the possibility to no longer be able to share the stage with the wonderful, talented artists and my friends there. I respect and admire every ballerina with whom I dance at the company, and strive every day to be the best partner I possibly can be.

I sincerely hope that my contract is reinstated, based on AGMA's analysis of the situation, and that I can continue to work with my hard-working and dedicated colleagues at the company. They are my 'family,' and I love and admire them."

The Union Plans To Push Back

The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, also announced that they would challenge the decision to fire Ramasar and Catazaro. They told the NYT that the firings "relate entirely to non-work related activity and do not rise to the level of 'just cause' termination."

Of course, it is AGMA's responsibility to ensure that dancers are only fired for "just cause." Yet shouldn't it also fall on the union to make sure that dancers can work in a safe environment, and protect the women at the center of the degrading conversations that have been alleged? It will be interesting to see how they balance these two obligations.

About That Donor

With the news of the terminations also came more information on the anonymous donor who was implicated in comparing female dancers to "farm animals." Apparently, he was a former member of the Young Patrons Circle, and had donated a total of $12,000 over six years. At the suggestion of some very smart dancers, NYCB has now donated that same amount to a local charity focused on women's issues.

But the knowledge that the donor was a member of the Young Patrons Circle reminded some people on social media of NYCB's 2013 ad that overtly marketed the opportunity to meet young, beautiful female dancers as a reason to join. It becomes even more hair-raising in light of the accusations:

Fans React on Social Media

One of the most common reactions on social media over the weekend was summed up succinctly by Dance Magazine's editor at large:

As sad as dance lovers are to see such talent leave the stage, the thought that these accusations might be true is even more depressing.

What It Means for the Company

Dance critic Sarah Kaufman wrote in The Washington Post, "With the company's fall season at New York's Lincoln Center starting Tuesday, audiences must decide whether buying a ballet ticket means checking their consciences at the door."

But tickets to the gala performance next week are already sold out—the drama might not yet be affecting ticket sales as much as one might imagine.

Still, it calls for a serious look at NYCB's company culture. Kaufman writes: "Firing the dancers is not the same thing as fixing, in a carefully considered, long-term manner, what appear to be deep problems at City Ballet."

Meanwhile, a petition has been started to encourage the search committee to hire Wendy Whelan as NYCB's new artistic leader, making her the first woman to hold that role. As of Monday morning, it had already reached nearly 7,000 signatures in less than three days.

Others on Twitter are throwing their support behind Jenifer Ringer (despite not knowing whether she'd even want the job).

Why is it taking so long for the search committee to make a decision? The rumor is that everyone on the committee has their own favorite pick for the job, and no one will compromise. Which raises another one of Kaufman's suggestions: to replace the board itself, whose members have long overlooked problematic behavior in the company.

Either way, it's obviously high time to start a fresh new era at the company.

Update 9/18: The lawsuit has been amended to add Catazaro, Ramasar and donor Jared Longhitano as defendants.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021