Would New York City Ballet address the elephant in the room? At the company's annual fall gala last night, where the focus is ostensibly on newly-commissioned ballets and high-profile fashion collaborations, it was impossible not to wonder whether there would be any direct acknowledgement of the turmoil broiling behind the scenes: namely, an explosive lawsuit brought against the company by former School of American Ballet student Alexandra Waterbury. The allegations led to the recent resignation of Chase Finlay and subsequent firings of Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro; all three are named in Waterbury's suit. (This following the retirement in January of ballet master in chief Peter Martins amidst allegations of sexual harassment, which an independent investigation were unable to corroborate.)
Some dancers in the company have taken to social media to address the situation in recent weeks. Responses have ranged from condemnation of their colleagues' alleged actions to support for the fired dancers. The shared sentiment, however, seemed to be determination to come together and buckle down in rehearsals for the new season.
When the curtain rose, it didn't rise on a new ballet (at least at first). Instead, the full company stood onstage in a mix of gowns, tuxedos and warm-ups as principal dancer Teresa Reichlen delivered opening remarks on behalf of the dancers. And while neither the allegations nor the three absent dancers were mentioned, the speech did address what was happening offstage.
After thanking the audience for attending, Reichlen spoke of the decision to dedicate their lives to ballet and the values instilled in them by their training. She continued,
"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.
"We strongly believe that a culture of equal respect for all can exist in our industry. We hold one another to the highest standards and push one another while still showing compassion and support."
She further spoke of a shared desire to be standard bearers and role models both onstage and off, adding,
"We will not put art before common decency or allow talent to sway our moral compass."
The curtain fell after she thanked the audience "for your continued support at this time," and acknowledging the pride and gratitude they felt for being able to do what they do.
The oblique references might have gone over the heads of any attendees not in the know (I overheard a woman explaining to her neighbors what the fuss was about)—though not all of the dancers were quite so subtle.
Seeing the dancers present a united front was, in its way, heartening. But it's one thing to publicly present the image of a company standing together, and quite another to enact real, lasting change. There is still much work to be done, and a new artistic leader devoted to upholding the values spoken of so eloquently by Reichlen is vital for the company to continue. But perhaps if the dancers can remain as united offstage as they appeared to be last night, and hold each other accountable for creating a healthy company culture, positive change can start from within.
Read the speech in its entirety below:
We the dancers of New York City Ballet want to take a moment to thank all of you for being here tonight at one of the most important evenings of our year.
As dancers, we decided early in our lives to dedicate ourselves to this beautiful art form, many leaving family and friends as teenagers. Our teachers at the School of American Ballet led us through Balanchine's teachings, and instilled in us a strong work ethic and a pursuit of excellence. Our teachers taught us to be proud and not settle for less than perfection.
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.
We strongly believe that a culture of equal respect for all can exist in our industry. We hold one another to the highest standards and push one another while still showing compassion and support.
We will not put art before common decency or allow talent to sway our moral compass. NYCB dancers are standard bearers on the stage and we strive to carry that quality, purity and passion in all aspects of our lives.
We want to be role models and create an inspiring environment in which future generations of girls and boys will have access to both the joys and responsibilities that we have as dancers of NYCB.
Each of us standing here tonight is inspired by the values essential to our art form: dignity, integrity, and honor.
And all of us in this magnificent theater share a love for dance, whether it is the physical act of performing, the nightly pleasure of watching, or both.
We, the dancers of NYCB, want to take this moment to thank you for appreciating and supporting this Company. And thank you especially for your continued support at this time.
We are proud of the work we do, and we are grateful for the opportunity – and the honor – to bring beauty into the lives of our audiences.