A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
Chase Johnsey quietly made modern ballet history when he performed as part of the women's ensemble in English National Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Elliot Franks, Courtesy In the Lights PR
Back in January, Chase Johnsey grabbed headlines when he resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, where his performances had garnered critical acclaimfor over a decade, alleging a culture of harassment and discrimination. (An independent investigation launched by the company did not substantiate any legal claims.) Johnsey, who identifies as genderqueer, later told us that he feared his dance career was at an end—where else, as a ballet dancer, would he be allowed to perform traditionally female roles?
But the story didn't end there. After a surprise offer from Tamara Rojo, artistic director of English National Ballet, Johnsey has found a temporary artistic home with the company, joining as a guest at the rank of first artist for its run of The Sleeping Beauty, which continues this week. After weeks of working and rehearsing with the company, last week Johnsey quietly marked a new milestone: He performed with ENB's corps de ballet as one of the ladies in the prince's court.
Former Trockadero star Chase Johnsey says, "I am completely lost because my career is gone as far as me dancing as a ballerina." Photo courtesy Johnsey.
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."
On January 1st, Chase Johnsey resigned from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. In a YouTube video, he outlined allegations of harassment and humiliation over his celebrated 14-year tenure with the company, ranging from discrimination for appearing too feminine to being told that he could no longer perform with the company should he choose to undergo a gender transition.
While the company has issued a statement denying Johnsey's claims of harassment, discrimination and retaliation, they have also hired an independent, outside expert to investigate the allegations. We caught up with Johnsey by phone in Barcelona, where he has decamped with his husband.
Yakatarina Verbosovitch (Chase Johnsey) in Paquita. Via Instagram @chasejohnsey
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.
Over the last 40 years, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo has become known for farcical versions of classical ballets, with the majority of the all-male company donning full drag, including hair, makeup, tutus and pointe shoes. But recently, the Trocks have found new purpose in an educational outreach program the company piloted this summer at advocacy organizations including the Ali Forney Center, which focuses on empowering homeless LGBTQIA youth and SAGE, which assists older LGBTQIA adults.