American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside is known for more than just his uber-charismatic presence on the ballet stage; He doubles as both the drag queen Ühu Betch and the pop star JbDubs. Whiteside's newest musical release, titled WTF, came out last week, and is for sure his most ballet-filled song to date. Both the lyrics and the choreography are jam-packed with bunhead references, from the Rose Adagio to Haglund's Heel to a framed portrait of George Balanchine. Not to mention the fact that he and his four backup dancers (Matthew Poppe, Douane Gosa, Maxfield Haynes and Gianni Goffredo) absolutely kill it in pointe shoes.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When Jan Fabre's troupe Troubleyn presents his Mount Olympus: To glorify the cult of tragedy (a 24 hour performance) at NYU Skirball tomorrow it does so under a heavy cloud of controversy.
Fabre is a celebrated Belgian multidisciplinary artist who has been honored as Grand Officer in the Order of the Crown, one of the country's highest honors. His visual art has been displayed at the Louvre and at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. According to The New York Times, his dance company, Troubleyn, receives about $1 million a year from the Belgian government.
But in an open letter posted to Belgian magazine Rekto Verso just a few months ago, 20 of his company's current and former dancers outline a horrific culture of sexual harassment, bullying and coercion. This comes on the heels of similar accusations at New York City Ballet and Paris Opèra Ballet.
Before I was ready for therapy, I had ballet. To be clear, dancing came with difficulty for me. But the experience—with the right teacher—was deeply healing. The thing that helped me start to unite my mind with my body was my teacher's unique use of language, of words, matched with the movement.
I had tried dancing before but it never worked out. After my first class as a kid, it was reported to my mother that I was disruptive. For years my wild woman antics were a family joke. I returned to ballet as a young teenager, then again after college, trying three or four different teachers. But my body would not do what I wanted it to do.
Update: Additional perspectives have been added to this story as more responses have come in.
"Every time I see a little girl in a tutu or with her hair in a bun on her way to ballet class, all I can think is that she should run in the other direction," she said, "because no one will protect her, like no one protected me."
It was quite a statement, and it got us thinking. Of course, it's heartbreaking to imagine the experiences that Waterbury lists in the lawsuit, and it's easy to see why this would be her reaction.
But should aspiring ballet dancers really "run in the other direction"? Were her alleged experiences isolated incidences perpetuated by a tiny percentage of just one company—or are they indicative of major problems in today's ballet culture within and beyond NYCB's walls?
Writing in Dance Magazine in 1969 about Tap Happenings, those weekly tap dance jams at the Bert Wheeler Theater in New York City, critic Patrick O'Connor commented on dancers Sandra Gibson and Leticia Jay, the two sole female performers: "Gibson, the first of the red hot 'soul' mamas does a number, as does Leticia Jay, but face it, the evening belongs to the men."
More than 60 former students from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet have joined a class-action lawsuit against the company and its former teacher and photographer Bruce Monk. Those involved are seeking $75 million in damages, for inappropriate photos that were taken of them as students by Monk. The lawsuit was reported by MacLean's, a Canadian news outlet.
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You'd think the Paris Opéra Ballet would be in damage-control mode after a leaked dancers' survey, in April, brought up worrying reports of harassment and mismanagement. But instead of addressing these issues internally, the French company is suing one of its own dancers in order to strip him of his union representative status and subsequently be free to fire him.
Dalloz Actualité, a French online magazine specializing in legal matters, elaborated on the lawsuit in an article published last week. The corps de ballet dancer taken to court, whom we'll call "S." to protect his identity, wasn't actually a member of the Commission for Artistic Expression, the elected group of dancers who put together the survey. He is described as a "geek" who provided technical support to ensure the validity of the results.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.
I'm feeling very torn about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Everyone from a company director to teachers and dancers are being accused of sexual harassment and leaving their jobs in disgrace. What happened to the idea of being presumed innocent until proven guilty?
—Conflicted, New York, NY
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
Last month, Buzzfeed News confirmed 17 instances of groping or sexual misconduct by patrons of the immersive theater show Sleep No More.
Having experienced the show for the first time just a week before the story broke, I can't say I was surprised by the accusations.
No, I'm not bitter because of the more common complaints I've heard from patrons: I didn't get lost in the dark halls of the McKittrick Hotel, and I don't care that I didn't get any of the coveted one-on-one scenes. Instead, at every step of my two and a half hour journey through the show, I felt that the safety of the performers—and of the audience—was being compromised for the sake of an experience that just wasn't worth the risk.
On Monday, The New York Times broke a story about ballet that was quickly picked up by other national and international news outlets. Peter Martins, longtime ballet master in chief of New York City Ballet and head of the faculty of the School of American Ballet, has been accused of sexual harassment in an anonymous letter. The dance world may or may not have been surprised by this.
I certainly didn't feel surprise at the news. Writing this on the day that Time magazine has named "The Silence Breakers" of #MeToo "Person of the Year," this story seems of a piece with the many others we've watched in recent weeks with a mixture of horror, relief and vindication as men begin to face consequences for their disregard for the personhood of the women around them.