Peter Martins retires and the dance world edges into the world of “me-too”

Following accusations of sexual misconduct Peter Martins, the Balletmaster-in-Chief of the New York City Ballet gave his resignation to the company’s board on Monday.*

He was in the post for 27 years having taken over the reins when Jerome Robbins resigned as his co-Balletmaster-in-Chief in 1990.

The company has been led by only three men, the founder, George Balanchine, then Robbins and Martins.

Martins has a direct line to Balanchine, having asked for his blessing as a successor when Balanchine was ill in hospital.

Balanchine told him: “Look, no one is going to hand it to you. You’re going to have to take it, you’re going to have to fight for it”.

The resignation of Martins, 71, marks the end of the Balanchine chain of command although if Wendy Whelan, for example, is the next leader, she does have a link to Balanchine having joined the School of American Ballet, the official school of New York City Ballet, in 1982, a year before Balanchine’s death.

Martin’s departure also marks a new era in the dance world as, from now on, the art form is likely to face the same “me-too” moments as those recently revealed in the media, film and theatre worlds.

Dancers and staff may feel less afraid to tell what happened in the past when they were abused by directors and/or teachers.

Ever since The Red Shoes, movies and TV programs have depicted the nasty dance director who acts like a dictator and brings tears to the eyes of every dancer except those who are their pets or lovers.

The horrid director cliché might be overdone but the dancers’ world is still a place of put-downs, jealousies, remarks that hurt deeply, of being ignored, body-shamed or the embarrassment of inappropriate suggestions.

Nureyev, one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time, was quick to anger, to shout, to make rude remarks and worse, but his extraordinary talent kept him safe. Only a few faced up to Nureyev and told him to stop.

Now, when things go wrong, dancers usually keep things to themselves although there have been incidents when the truth is revealed and the director is shown the exit door. More often, a teacher is revealed for bad behaviour.

Courts and tribunals have heard some of the cases but the media, in the main, keeps quiet.

That timidity is now more likely to change.

Complaints can’t be ignored.

* Martins said he resigned as the accusations from the past “exacted a painful toll on me and my family”.

He told the NYCB board he did not sexually harass or abuse members of the company, including dancers.

Charles Scharf, the NYCB chairman, has praised Martins for his long career as ballet master-in-chief but “at the same time, the board takes seriously the allegations that have been made against him and we expect the independent investigation of those allegations to be completed soon”.

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Peter Martins at the New York City Ballet 2017 Fall Fashion Gala, 28 September 2017, photo © Clint Spaulding/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

Charles Scharf, chairman of the New York City Ballet