When a young dancer with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo named Chase Johnsey was chosen as one of our "25 to Watch" ten years ago, Dance Magazine contributor Joseph Carman wrote, "Chase Johnsey (aka Yakatarina Verbosovitch and her danseur alter-ego Roland Daulin) uses his brilliant technique and delicate quality to blur gender lines to the point of spooky illusion. The petite 22-year-old, Florida-born, diva is so convincing that if you plunked him down into the cast of ABT's La Bayadère as one of the Shades, no one would blink an eyelash." His career since has been a successful one, winning critical acclaim and the U.K.'s National Dance Award for best male dancer last year as well as being featured in the recent Trocks documentary.
So it came as a huge surprise last week when Johnsey announced his resignation from the company after 14 years. But even more shocking are the reasons he gave for leaving what he describes as his dream job.
In a video posted to YouTube, Johnsey says that he no longer believes the company stands for openness and gender freedom. He claims that he and other dancers have been mistreated, sexually harassed and discriminated against for appearing too feminine in classes and rehearsals, adding, "We're being bullied for expressing our femininity and we're being given ultimatums just because we don't live up to some masculine idea of what a gay man is....So I'm throwing away my dream job for what I believe in."
Further, Johnsey, who identifies as gender queer, cites an incident in 2012 when he was told that should he choose to transition, as he was considering at the time, he would no longer be allowed to perform with the company. He says, "I believe that trans people should have a place in ballet, and I think Trockaderos should be the first to have that even though they advertise us as 'men on pointe.' " He later posted several follow-up videos, one of which clarified that while this was not the reason he chose to resign, the company's stance on this issue is one with which he disagrees.
In response to a request for comment, the company issued the following statement:
"The management and board of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo were surprised and sorry to learn of the claims by Chase Johnsey. Our professional, all-male comedy ballet company has a proud history of service to the gay and transgender communities, and has been a pioneer of inclusiveness for 44 years. We welcome and foster a diverse array of dancers, employees and audience members. Therefore, we take Chase's concerns very seriously. The board has hired an independent, outside expert to investigate the allegations. We will take whatever measures necessary to address the findings of the investigation. At this time, however, the board is not aware of any discrimination, harassment or retaliation against Chase or any other member of the Trockadero. Management denies the allegations."
We'll keep you posted as the situation unfolds.
Update: Johnsey reached out to DM after seeing the statement made by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. He stands by his previous statements.
Update: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has released the following statement:
"Following Chase Johnsey's claims of harassment and discrimination by the management of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, and his subsequent resignation, the Board engaged an independent investigator to review these claims, including interviewing 24 witnesses that included current and former company members. On the issue of legal claims, the investigator did not find that any substantiated legal claims were presented. However, any assessment of an organization will reveal areas where things can be improved, and the Board has faith that Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and its management team will benefit from this process and will use this assessment to continue the company on a successful trajectory."