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?
Peter Martins. Photo by Adam Shankbone, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
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 hadbeen 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 Postconveyed 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.
American Ballet Theatre just announced that principal dancer Marcelo Gomes, who celebrated 20 years with the company this summer, has resigned.
Last Saturday, ABT learned of a "highly concerning" allegation of sexual misconduct by Gomes, related to an incident from approximately eight years ago. A press release from board chairman Andrew F. Barth says that the allegation did not involve any current or former company members, and didn't occur in relation to Gomes' employment with ABT. The company launched an independent investigation, and today, in light of that investigation, Gomes gave his resignation.
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.
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:
The past few months have brought to light countless accusations of sexual harassment and assault against men in positions of power across media, Hollywood and politics. Though there hasn't been much attention on the issue as it plays out in the dance world, unfortunately we know all to well that sexual harassment exists in our industry. We're looking into how it happens and what's being done to address it.
If you're a member of the dance community and have experienced sexual harassment, or know someone who has, please fill out our survey if you're comfortable sharing your story: