Update: The full job description has been posted here.
Ever since Peter Martins retired from New York City Ballet this January amid an investigation into sexual harassment and abuse allegations, we've been speculating about who might take his place—and how the role of ballet master in chief might be transformed.
Until now, we've only known a bit about what the search for a new leader looks like. But yesterday, The New York Times reported that the company has released a job description for the position. Here's what we're able to discern about the new leader and what this means for the future of NYCB:
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.
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
From the minute my journey as a dancer began at age 4, there were no other options of what I might do with my life.
Sure, I tried other "after-school activities." I tried desperately to master The Phantom of the Opera with my squeaky violin rental—a headache for my parents who paid for private Suzuki method lessons at our house. Constantly attempting famous show tunes on my violin, the effort was completely futile. I actually remember thinking, 'Surely this sheet music is wrong, this sounds nothing like the Phantom of the Opera.'
I even tried my hand at gymnastics. But when my mom's brilliant bribery of $100 for my first mastery of a kip or a back handspring didn't produce any results, we quickly threw in the towel.
2017 felt like we were living the Upside Down of the popular Netflix series "Stranger Things." From Donald Trump becoming president, to the sexual harassment scandals that ricocheted into the ballet world, everything we thought we knew was turned on its head.
Yet while the deconstruction of institutional paradigms is frightening, it also presents an unprecedented opportunity for redesign.
Ballet, much like our political parties, seems to be stuck in an antiquated format that's long overdue for a makeover. With the world changing at lightning speed, if ballet wants to survive it will have to undergo a radical reimagining. But what would that look like?
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?
Yesterday evening, Peter Martins announced his immediate retirement as New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief through a letter to the company's board. He had been solely in charge of the company's artistic direction since 1989 and the School of American Ballet's chairman of faculty since 1983. Since December 7, Martins had been on a self-requested leave, amidst an investigation of claims of sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse. In the letter, he stated, "I have denied, and continue to deny, that I have engaged in any such misconduct." However, earlier articles from The New York Times and The Washington Post conveyed accounts of verbal and physical abuse by NYCB dancers, both past and present. In 1992, Martins was charged with third-degree assault of his wife Darci Kistler, though the charges were later dropped.
Here is my list of favorites from this year, some of them with video clips embedded. I've also added "lingering thoughts" about certain situations in the dance world. As usual, my choices are limited by what I have actually seen. Most of the following are world premieres.
• Andrea Miller's Stone Skipping in the Egyptian room at the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Ancient and ultra-modern at once, gaga-initiated grapplings, telling many stories of people in struggle and solidarity. The group sequence (with her company Gallim plus dancers from Juilliard) from lying on the floor with pelvis bobbing to standing, to swaying, to skipping wildly about was transcendent.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt first spoke out about sexual misconduct at NYCB in Psychology Tomorrow in 2012. Since October, she's been working with The Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaufman for a story about Peter Martins, and when the School of American Ballet began investigating Martins for an anonymous accusation, she was called in to discuss her experiences. But Frankfurt feels there's more to the larger picture, and shares that here with Dance Magazine, as edited by Maggie Levin.
In 1994, I began to write a book of essays about my life in dance—mostly as an exercise. When the #MeToo movement began this year, I knew it was time to brush the dust off and take another look. Although incomplete, these essays addressed the roots that have long run between sexual abuse, alcoholism and ballet. They involve George Balanchine, Peter Martins and numerous stars of the New York City Ballet. It's painfully clear that my story is the same story that has occurred thousands of times, all over the world.
While it's appalling that any male leader would use his power to humiliate women, the accusations against Peter Martins opens up a wonderful, rosy possibility. In an email conversation about Martins stepping down temporarily, a friend of mine wrote, "They won't hire a man in this climate."
I suddenly found myself getting giddy with the thought that a woman might lead New York City Ballet. I pictured a former NYCB principal coming in and calming the dancers down, respecting them, inspiring them, treating them like adults, listening to them and encouraging communication between all factions of the company.
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.
Yesterday The New York Times reported that New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet are jointly investigating sexual harassment claims involving Peter Martins. According to a statement from SAB, it "recently received an anonymous letter making general, nonspecific allegations of sexual harassment in the past by Peter Martins at both New York City Ballet and the school."
Martins, who serves as NYCB's ballet master in chief and SAB's chairman of faculty and artistic director will not be teaching his weekly class at the school as the investigation continues. He currently maintains his positions at both organizations.
While sexual harassment allegations have recently been made against a growing list of Hollywood heavy-hitters, politicians, news anchors and other men in positions of power, this is the first investigation this year of a major figure from the dance world.
Immediate reactions were varied, though emotionally charged. Here are a few of the many responses:
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
A long time ago, I was a teenager, just hired as a member of the corps with New York City Ballet. I found myself standing in B-plus at the very back corner of the State Theater stage, clutching the hand of fellow teenage corps member Shawn Stevens. Though the expansive stage was filled with dozens of talented dancers, I was most awed by the two who stood front and center: Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins. With a sudden and sweeping downbeat from maestro Robert Irving, the full power of Balanchine and Tchaikovsky flooded the stage and the final triumphant moments of "Diamonds" began.
New York City Ballet's fall season opened last week with Peter Martins' production of Swan Lake. The company is looking ahead to their gala tomorrow, followed by a month of works new and old. The marketing department seems particularly excited about its premieres, many of them created by new choreographers (perhaps part of their admirable attempt to lure in young audiences). But, when photos of these choreographers are stitched together (as they were on Facebook last week), the homogeneity of the faces featured is striking. They are all white men, and their pieces start off a season of revivals by more white men.
To be fair, most major companies aren't doing much better. Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet are making an effort at inclusivity, each featuring one woman in their fall programming. Pacific Northwest Ballet will dance the work of two women this fall. The only woman on the roster for both Miami City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre's fall seasons is Twyla Tharp. While I love that they are including classic Tharp works, this doesn't demonstrate a commitment to fostering new voices or shifting their repertory long-term.
But City Ballet prides itself on commissioning new works every season and developing the talent of young choreographers. Last week, The New York Times published a piece by Roslyn Sulcas entitled "New York City Ballet Gambles on Unknown Choreographers." Unknown, and young. Robert Binet is only 24. Myles Thatcher is 25. By comparison, Justin Peck and Troy Schumacher, 28 and 29, seem like old pros. The article tracks the trajectory of these boys, highlighting their mentor relationships with men such as Alexei Ratmansky, Wayne McGregor and NYCB ballet master in chief Peter Martins. The pattern of white men supporting younger white men points to a problem that starts early on but eventually determines whose work will be seen. Martins says on hiring young choreographers: "What can I say, I’m gutsy. I liked the idea of having all these people in their 20s, making new work. It shows the art form is really alive." But how can an art form be alive when it excludes so many?
There are countless women whose work I would love to see on the Koch stage. Annabelle Lopez Ochoa might have more experience than all of NYCB's boys combined, and makes inventive and charming works. Amy Seiwert, Helen Pickett, Gabrielle Lamb and Aszure Barton have been making bold pieces for mid-sized companies for years. Gemma Bond finds time to choreograph smart and subtle works when she isn't shining in ABT's corps. Emery LeCrone is a promising voice, who participated in NYCB's Choreographic Institute and often makes works on NYCB dancers on smaller stages. Why wasn't her career nurtured like these male choreographers? This is not to mention choreographers of color, who face an entirely different set of barriers because they are also excluded from ballet as performers. That's a blog for another day.
The fault is not solely NYCB's. The problem is far-reaching, especially among companies of NYCB's scale. And yet, I want to believe that I work in a field that cares about the voices of women and people of color. I want to believe that an art form that fancies itself as progressive, and a company situated in one of the most forward-thinking cities in the world, isn't complacent about racism and sexism. Unfortunately, I don't believe any of this yet.