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Op-Ed: What's Missing in the Peter Martins Investigation
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.
That story is essentially this:
An abused and/or fatherless child is brought by an ambitious mother to the court of the fairytale castle to perform for the drunken king. The girl soon learns how to get and keep his attention—and roles in ballets. She learns how to maneuver in a deviant, alcoholic culture. She learns how to ignore boys her own age and seduce old rich men who write checks for the company. And—if she is smart—she marries one of them before she is 30. For by that age, she's usually too old to dance.
One of my essays was published in Psychology Tomorrow magazine in 2012, and in light of the Harvey Weinstein accusations, I unearthed the link and posted it to my personal Facebook page. It sparked a conversation about the sexual misconduct and the abuse of power in the ballet world. The subject became Peter Martins. He is currently being investigated.
I have, to this date been contacted by all interested parties in the press, the School of American Ballet and the law firm conducting the investigation for both NYCB and SAB to speak out further about Martins. I have the utmost respect for Sarah Kaufman from The Washington Post, whom I worked with on this for months.
Kelly Cass Boal's story of mental and physical abuse in The Washington Post paints a clear picture of that aspect.
Am I a victim of Martins abuse? Yes. Was it sexual? Yes. Was it consensual? No.
But my own trauma is a surmountable issue. What keeps me up at night is the thought of how many dancers still live in fear, subject to the confused sexuality and morality of these powerful people.
Why are they not educated, informed and protected? And who are the adults that turn their heads the other way, knowing what they know?
I pose this question: Is Martins being thrown under the bus to avoid addressing the larger, more deep-seated problem? Shouldn't the board of directors of both organizations and all related organizations be a part of this investigation? Unearthing lurid details of past abuses for public consumption is, to me, far less important than exposing 35 years of cover-ups, mismanagement, greed and corruption—all of which created a toxic, dangerous work environment for generations of vulnerable dancers.
Thank you Dance Magazine for the opportunity to speak in my own voice!
Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she'd been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.
But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica's history.
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
Ever wonder why some dancers' port de bras appears to be disconnected from their body? It typically comes down to how they stabilize their shoulder blades, says Marimba Gold-Watts, Pilates instructor to dancers like Robert Fairchild.
"Dancers often hear the cue to pull down on their latissimus,"—the biggest muscle in the back—"which doesn't allow the shoulder blades to lie flat," she says. "It makes the bottom tips of the shoulder blades wing, or flare out, off the rib cage."
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.