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.
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.
New York City Ballet will be three male principals short this season. Due to "inappropriate communications," Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro have been suspended without pay until 2019, and Chase Finlay has resigned, effective immediately, according to The New York Times. (Finlay's name has already disappeared from the company roster on nycballet.com.)
A statement from the NYCB board chairman said they received a letter from someone outside of the company "alleging inappropriate communications made via personal text and email by three members of the company" that were "personal in nature." It added that the board's efforts to reach Finlay to even discuss the allegations were unsuccessful, which leads us to believe that it must have been quite a serious offense.
The biggest weekend in Broadway is finally upon us: The Tony Awards are this Sunday (airing at 8 pm EST on CBS). While other media outlets might be busy forecasting winners, we're speculating about the dancing we might get to see during the broadcast.
Needless to say, we have a few ideas.
Sure, lots of ballet dancers are doing stints in Broadway shows these days. But most of them aren't tackling roles like Jigger Craigin, Carousel's villainous whaler, who yes, dances, but is by no means a role traditionally played by a dancer, and who demands a careful blend of charm and danger, drunkenness and cunning. Yet this is the role that New York City Ballet star Amar Ramasar has taken on—and triumphantly, too. The New York Times called his Broadway debut "electric."
We caught up with him for our "Spotlight" series:
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The connections between New York City Ballet and Broadway go way back—choreography by Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine frequently found its way onto Broadway stages, from West Side Story to the Slaughter on Tenth Avenue number in On Your Toes. Today, principal Robert Fairchild is currently headlining the West End production of An American in Paris, while soloist Georgina Pazcoguin has been on a leave of absence this past year to play Victoria in the Broadway revival of CATS.
When the just-announced revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic Carousel opens on Broadway in March 2018, we'll be adding three more names to the list: Justin Peck has been brought on to choreograph the production, while Amar Ramasar and Brittany Pollack have been cast in key roles.
Whether you're flying solo or in a relationship, these nine supremely talented—and, ahem, hunky—male dancers wanted you to know they'll be thinking of you this Valentine's Day. Gift these for Galentine's Day or just consider them a gift from us to you. (You're welcome.)
Alex Wong (and his abs) wish you a fantastic day.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Carlos Acosta may be retired from The Royal Ballet, but he still wants to dance with you.
Photo by Kristie Kahns
Master choreographer Hofesh Shechter has offered to share his craft.
Photo by Lucas Chilczuk
Tony Yazbeck, here in costume for On the Town, took a short break from Finding Neverland to say hi.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Sterling Baca is looking for a partner on the dance floor.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
New York City Ballet principal (and our February cover star) Amar Ramasar might have some free time to rehearse.
Photo by Jayme Thornton
Downtown dancers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener know how to play it cool.
Photo by Jayme Thornton
New York City Ballet's Justin Peck thinks that you could be The Most Incredible Thing.
Photo by Jayme Thornton.
In costume for Alexei Ratmansky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Photo by Jayme Thornton.
Just about every woman on our staff has a crush on Amar Ramasar. And no, not just because he’s so good-looking. There’s something in the way he lets his inner child come out to play onstage, dancing like he’s giddily challenging himself to see how fast, how high, how far he can go. It’s hard not to fall for him. In our cover story, writer Marina Harss explores how he’s recently come into his own, developing the skills to tackle nearly any ballet in New York City Ballet’s repertoire. Yet he remains one of the company’s friendliest, most down-to-earth dancers.
Ramasar didn’t become such a compelling artist overnight. He’s worked on his approach diligently over the 15 years he’s spent on NYCB’s stage. Every dancer hopes to develop their talent over that many seasons, but not all get the chance. So we asked top veteran dancers how they’ve done it. Houston Ballet principal and mother of three Sara Webb, for example, cycles through a repertoire of daily core exercises, while 57-year-old tour de force Louise Lecavalier keeps her body balanced by taking classes in techniques that are different from what she’s performing.
One piece of advice they all offered was to search for work that’s right for your particular talents and disposition, something that will keep you inspired for decades. If you’re still trying to figure out what that might be, take a look at our “Auditions Guide”: In addition to over 100 job opportunities, we share advice on how to calm your audition anxiety, what mistakes turn off directors the most and more. Then get out there, and land your dream job.
Editor in Chief
In a large studio on the fifth floor of the David H. Koch Theater, Amar Ramasar and four women from New York City Ballet's corps are rehearsing “Phlegmatic," from Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. Ramasar goes through his solo, analyzing each step as if attempting it for the first time. Energy shoots through his fingers in an arabesque penchée. His face beams as he pops through a thicket of women's bodies, like a jack-in-the-box. When he and his four backup dancers do a sequence of développés to the side, his legs reach up as high as theirs, the line completed by a sharply pointed foot. “It hurts, Rosemary, it hurts!" he jokes to the ballet mistress, Rosemary Dunleavy, in mock agony after one of these impressive extensions, then begins again.
Photo by Jayme Thornton.
Afterwards, he thanks the pianist, hugs Dunleavy and high-fives his fellow dancers. Everyone agrees: Ramasar is a mensch, as quick to give encouragement or welcome a newcomer as he is to pick up choreography or find a solution to a partnering riddle. At 34 and clearly at the top of his game, he is unfailingly modest. This sunny disposition, and the adaptability that underpins it, has served him well in a profession that is at times grueling, and never easy.
His own path has certainly demanded a certain amount of grit. He started ballet relatively late—at 12—after taking part in a New York City–wide after-school musical theater program called TADA! Daniel Catanach, a teacher and choreographer then working with TADA!, noticed him right away. “He used to follow me around," says Catanach, “asking, 'When do I get a solo, when do I get a solo?'
Because he could see how much Ramasar loved to dance, Catanach showed him a video of Balanchine's Agon. Something awoke in Ramasar: “I fell in love. I thought, 'I can do this.' The four guys standing there—I could relate to it. It had almost a street vernacular, like hip hop. I had done lots of hip hop with my friends after school." Catanach, a mentor whom Ramasar refers to as his uncle, arranged for an audition at the School of American Ballet. He got in.
It turned out that ballet was a lot harder than it looked. The boys standing next to Ramasar at the barre were four or five years younger and already knew what they were doing. “I was the tallest in my class, and a little chubby," he says, “and they were all so beautiful, with the right facility and physique." He felt inadequate and unsure of his gifts.
His awareness of being different, a mixed-race dancer in an art where whiteness is still the norm, may have played a part. But it's not something he talks about readily. “I've encouraged other boys of color to audition for SAB," says Catanach, “and they couldn't deal with the lack of diversity. But it didn't affect him. He was there to dance." Ramasar never complained. “I figured if I cried my mother would pull me out," he says, “so I put on a good face." At least classes in the boys' program at SAB were free—otherwise, ballet training would have been beyond the family's means.
Ramasar in The Four Temperaments. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Though Ramasar's parents were okay with his studying dance, neither could take time off of work to usher him to and from class, so he got used to navigating the subways from the Bronx at a young age. (“I had the longest commute of anyone," he says.) His mother, Merida, is originally from Puerto Rico and worked as a nurse. His father, Churan, is of Indian descent, from the island of Trinidad; he is a computer technician. It was a multicultural home, in which both the Hindu and Catholic religions were observed. There was a lot of music: “My mother taught me every Latin dance that was ever invented," Ramasar says, smiling. “Salsa, merengue, bachata, all of it."
Ramasar's parents wanted him to be a doctor or a scientist, particularly after he was accepted at The Bronx High School of Science, a prestigious public school in New York City. It wasn't until he danced the lead in Balanchine's Danses Concertantes at SAB's year-end workshop, he says, that they fully realized what their son had become: a professional dancer.
A few months later, in 2000, he was taken into the company as an apprentice. From the beginning, Peter Martins, NYCB's ballet master in chief, pushed him: “He said, 'You need to work on your fifth position. Remember, that's the base,' " Ramasar recalls. He had a natural affinity for the more contemporary ballets, but the elongated, clean, relaxed lines associated with classical roles have taken him longer to acquire. The process of reining in his almost manic energy also took time. “In the contemporary pieces it didn't matter so much if you had flat turnout and perfectly straight knees, but that was what I was trying to obtain," he says. Still, there was something about him that made you want to watch him move.
He became a soloist in 2006, and a principal three years later, but his rise has not been as steady as the timeline might imply. “I had a lot of growing up to do. I had to work harder," he admits. “It was a hard plateau to pass." But in the last few years, he has found a new focus. He religiously attends morning class, though he confesses to hating barre. “It's just the rawest kind of bare vision of your technique," he explains. “You can't hide the problem at barre." The work has paid off, particularly in recent seasons; his footwork has become clean, his jumps sharp and explosive, his musicality fine-tuned. He has acquired style and presence. These days he's less apt to mug for the audience, an endearing tendency from his younger days. He is moving into more rarefied territory: Monumentum pro Gesualdo, “Emeralds" and the diaphanous pas de deux in the second act of A Midsummer Night's Dream. One day, he hopes to dance “Diamonds."
Ulysses Dove's Red Angels. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB.
Meanwhile, he has worked with practically every visiting choreographer, from Alexei Ratmansky to Liam Scarlett, Angelin Preljocaj to Kim Brandstrup. The young resident choreographer Justin Peck has used him in several works. He's danced plenty of Robbins (including Robbins' own role in Fancy Free), as well as much of the modernist Balanchine repertoire, including the ballet that got him hooked in the first place, Agon. Some nights at the Koch, he barely leaves the stage. “No one can do everything," says Peter Martins, “but Amar comes close."
In fall 2014, Ratmansky created a role for him in his new Pictures at an Exhibition. His character appeared to be a kind of sorcerer, conjuring up a storm with his arms and legs. Ramasar jumped and twisted, slapped his thighs and launched into a demented-looking Charleston. He ensnared a woman (Sara Mearns) in his arms, lifting and twisting her in the air, then spiraled off on his own. Every movement looked slightly unhinged and at the same time sharply etched. It's difficult to imagine anyone else stepping into the role. Maybe that's what happens when a dancer comes into his own—every role becomes an extension of his personality. One thing is abundantly clear: Ramasar is exactly where he wants to be.
A salute to Polichinelles, hoop skirts, and headlong falls
Amar Ramasar, New York City Ballet: Did the macarena. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
The first one-act Nutcracker in the U.S. was staged for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo by Alexandra Fedorova, who had danced in the original production in Russia. Her production informed The Nutcracker of her daughter, Irine Fokine (niece of Michel Fokine), whose Nutcracker ran annually in New Jersey from 1957 to 2009. Andrew Mark Wentink performed the role of Mother Ginger while still a student at the Irine Fokine School of Ballet in Ridgewood, NJ, and returned as a guest almost every year, amassing a record of more than 40 years in the role. Wentink is a dance archivist, researcher, and writer who also taught dance-related courses at Middlebury College for nearly a decade.
Mother Ginger and I have shared a long and affectionate relationship. After a literally shaky beginning, we soon learned to work together to project a vivacious and lovable personality. I have never looked upon my interpretation of the role as a “drag" act, or even as a man dancing en travesti. Almost from the outset I felt that Tchaikovsky's frolicsome music and Irine Fokine's choreography for the dance opened a portal for me to channel the spirit of this magical and endearing character.
Left: Andrew Mark Wentink: A 40-year relationship with the role. Photo courtesy Wentink.
Mother Ginger and I first met when I was 14 years old. In 1962 I was in my fourth year performing in Irine Fokine's full-length production of The Nutcracker. Tall for my age, I had danced the roles of the Butler and Mouse King. I was surprised, however, when my height qualified me for my next assignment: Mother Ginger. For three years I had watched older and much taller male dancers basically walk through the role. Their portrayals of Mother didn't impress me, but I loved the humor and vitality of the dance. Then Miss Fokine decided to take a chance on my promise as a character dancer and cast me as Mother Ginger.
It soon became clear in rehearsals that, while tall, I was too short to carry the heavy frame and voluminous costume without threatening to give a concussion to one or all of the Polichinelles under its skirt. So it was decided that I would have four-inch-high blocks strapped to my feet. This added another problem—the challenge of moving quickly and smoothly with these weighty encumbrances. In rehearsal, I struggled to remain balanced, keep on the music, and hit my marks until pausing downstage center to release the rambunctious Polichinelles from their confinement. My fear resulted in a leaden rendition, completely unsuitable to the dance.
In one of the earliest performances, Mother Ginger made her entrance shuffling steadily to keep up with the first 32 counts of the music, crossing at a diagonal from upstage left to downstage right, before backing up to center stage in 16. It had all the charm of a gown-bedecked dump truck. Halfway through the entrance, the straps on one of the blocks broke. I struggled to stay balanced but to no avail. I fell headlong onto the stage, the frame flipping over my head to reveal frilly pantaloons and six shocked Polichinelles frozen in their tracks. The live orchestra in the pit fell silent, the audience gasped, and there was an ominous stillness. At that moment, Mother Ginger took over. Within seconds, she flipped back the skirt, rose to her knees, and waved coyly to a delighted audience that was now in the palm of her white-gloved hands. The blocks were cast off, the music resumed, and Mother Ginger, now unbound like a genie from a bottle, completed the dance with unabashed flair.
From that point on over the next 50 years, whenever I channeled Mother Ginger, the opening section of the dance was done on half-toe, allowing a liberated Mother to move freely about the stage, interacting animatedly with generations of Polichinelles. With each passing year, Mother felt more license to improvise. She encouraged her Polichinelles to tease her. It paid off. “Mother Ginger and the Polichinelles" became a perennial favorite with audiences. Perhaps our greatest fan was the legendary Igor Youskevitch, who said it was the best Mother Ginger he had ever seen!
Above: Patrick Yocum, Boston Ballet: Demure but eccentric. Photo courtesy Boston Ballet.
Each time Mother Ginger and I joined forces, she revealed new dimensions of her rather unpredictable personality. In the 1970s, she inherited a fan used by Gwen Verdon in Sweet Charity which seemed to imbue her with a flirtatious and seductive, but always tasteful, allure. In the early 1980s, Mother Ginger found herself costumed in more subdued pastel tones with hair transformed from flaming henna to softer blonde. In keeping with the new look, she projected a newfound mature modesty.
Moving on into the 21st century, Mother has lost none of her ebullient spirit, vibrant energy, and desire to please. She waddles onstage, focused on her needlepoint until startled, then delighted by the welcome laughter. She still whirls feverishly through the final measures of the dance, before wafting gently to her knee in humble reverence.
I have so many fond memories of working with Mother Ginger over the past half-century. But there is every chance that Mother and I will make our final reverence this December in Donna Irina Decker's staging of the Irine Fokine production of The Nutcracker in Oneonta, New York. After 51 years, Mother Ginger and I agree that we should gracefully retire our onstage partnership and allow younger dancers to channel and spread her magic.
The Skinny on Stilts
Corps de ballet, Boston Ballet
The role can easily turn into slapstick. Our new Nutcracker brings her down from comedic and makes her much calmer. Costume and set designer Robert Perdziola wanted her demure—the grande dame rather than a comedy routine.
The dress weighs 40 pounds including the metal frame. The front part pulls your shoulders forward. You have to keep very upright especially in entrances and exits, and yet you have to create the character using only the upper body. Mother Ginger has an eccentric streak; she can really whirl. You have to slow down and look at ease.
I had no previous experience with stilts. Taking big steps forward or back is risky—you've got children under you. They are far braver than I am. I'd never go under the dress of a stranger who may fall and crash and kill you!
Corps de ballet
American Ballet Theatre
During the whole time I'm out there, the Little Mouse is already under the dress. I can feel him doing loops, walking around my feet. If I do a move too quick the wind will whoosh the fabric under the rim of the dress, and he goes along and pushes the fabric back out.
Left: Kenneth Easter, American Ballet Theatre: Dealing with the Little Mouse (Justin Souriau-Levine). Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT.
In the very beginning it's just him under the dress, then I come out and I've lost the kids—Has anybody seen my little Polichinelles?—and they get inside the dress. I go to leave and they start running out and that's when the Little Mouse comes out and chases them around and makes like he's sliding into first base; that little dude steals the show.
The dress weighs 30 to 40 pounds. To get into it, three crew guys—not wardrobe people—lower the dress as part of the scenery, and they clip us into the shoulder harnesses. Then sleeves, gloves, and hat are attached. The biggest fear is the stilts breaking—they're just under four feet.
It can be stressful. But the first time I did Mama G, I got out onstage and realized that this ballet is about—and for—the kids.
Principal, New York City Ballet
I went a little crazy with Mother Ginger. Peter Martins would always say, “It's not a drag-queen role, so tone it down." I actually did the macarena once. I thought it was hysterical and everyone was dying. But I got into trouble. It has to be motherly, like you're taking care of the children.
You have to be so sensitive, having the children under you. It twice happened that I felt one of their feet, and rather than step on them, I dove into the wings.
Everyone jokes that I should do it for my retirement. My advice? Make friends with the Polichinelles because they can make things harder for you.