Op-Ed: An Open Letter to the NYCB Dancers Who Are Supporting Peter Martins
Peter Martins rehearsing Ocean's Kingdom in 2011. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Dear dancers of the New York City Ballet,
I realize that you are scared because the future of the New York City Ballet is uncertain; you don't know who will man the ship, and your career that you've worked your entire life for feels under attack.
On social media some of you alluded to the idea that Peter Martins' downfall is a result of the times; a maelstrom of allegations sweeping the country, bringing down powerful men, for misdeeds proven and unproven. I understand that for many of you this feels unfair: Peter has helped you personally ascend the ranks of the company by believing in you, and mentoring you. For others the described behavior may feel abstract; it isn't something you've witnessed, and many of the accusations occurred long before your time, maybe even before you were born. And above all, how could you possibly betray the man who plucked you from the school and gave you the chance of a lifetime: to dance with one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world? How could you see this person, who gave you this chance, this gift, as the monster he's being painted as?
I care deeply about the future of the New York City Ballet, because like you, I gave my life to the company, and want nothing more than to see it succeed. I danced in the corps de ballet from 2001 until 2009 when I was a part of the mass layoff. I know from personal experience how terrifying it is to have your entire reality be pulled out from under you, so I'm not here to invalidate your feelings. Your careers are in flux, it's scary, but the allegations themselves are not what put you in this precarious position, Peter's behavior did.
It's okay if you want to write me off as a bitter former-dancer looking for vengeance, or you want to discredit me because I was let go. I've dealt with my feelings of shame and disappointment and rage in therapy, and I know that I'm not here to "get even" with anyone. I feel compelled to write you because I find myself in the unique place of having spent the same amount of time inside the professional dance world, as I have outside of it. And as a former insider I am aware that our voices are often considered irrelevant, which may be one reason some of you are standing with Peter rather than his accusers. In these times of uncertainly it makes sense that you feel the need to band together, but please don't allow this pack mentality to silence the voices of those who came before you because maybe there's a better way to run a world-renowned ballet company.
I have known some of you for a long time, so I'm telling you this as a friend: by posting on social media your sadness for Peter's downfall, you are siding with an abuser. You are discrediting the men and women who've come forward, an extraordinarily difficult thing to do outside the ballet world, and career suicide when it's done while still "inside." Even if you were to discredit each and every allegation, Peter's documented crimes are inarguable, and would be fireable offences in any other setting. Moreover, what are you conveying to your thousands of young fans, many of whom dream of one day having their own ballet careers, when you express blind devotion to a man in a powerful position?
Just like you can't equate a president to the Presidency, Peter was never New York City Ballet. The company is nothing without its dancers like a state isn't anything without its constituents. Change is often uncomfortable, but you should want someone at the helm with moral integrity, who deeply respects his or her employees, someone who sees the importance of a safe workplace for unfettered creation. I urge you to stand with New York City Ballet, not the man potentially responsible for its downfall.
Editor's note: We love hearing unique perspectives from throughout the dance field. Do you have a point of view you'd like to share in an op-ed? Email us at email@example.com.
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC
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Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.
But this kind of challenge is exactly what Los Angeles choreographer Tony Testa is looking for. He's currently creating a submission to throw his hat in the ring to choreograph for Beijing's 2022 Winter Games.
In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.
All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.