So said Wendy Whelan, a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, amid accusations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse against Peter Martins, the NYCB’s ballet master in chief, who reportedly retired yesterday.
Last month, while NYCB and the adjoining school investigated an anonymous claim of sexual harassment made against him, Martins took a leave of absence from the company. Five dancers then came forward with claims of Martin’s physical and verbal abuse, their reports spanning nearly three decades. In a letter to the company’s board, Martins denied the allegations: “To bring an end to this disruption which has enveloped the Ballet and the School, I have decided that it is time for me to retire.”
Like all fields grappling with the realities of harassment and assault, an insidious power imbalance has become entrenched in the world of ballet. Men still dominate ballet’s leadership positions. “The girls are trained to be ‘good girls,’ obedient and silent and to stand in a line and look all the same,” Rachel Moore, former CEO of American Ballet Theater, told WBUR in 2015.
“We aren’t encouraged to use our voice to expose the dark side of what is also truly a magical industry for the sake of hurting our father-figure teachers,” Whelan told The New York Times. “It can feel particularly risky—both emotionally and career wise—to be a whistle-blower within our field.”
One famous father-figure of the field, George Balanchine, had a history of blurring personal and professional boundaries. Balanchine, who Martins succeeded at NYCB, had a tremendous amount of influence in the company—part boss, part teacher, part “God.” He famously courted young dancers, married a few, and at the height of his power, temporarily fired a star dancer after she rejected his marriage proposal.
Martin’s retirement will now leave a powerful position open to a successor, opening the door for progress. “Harassment within ballet has been reported elsewhere,” wrote dance critic Alastair Macaulay. “Let City Ballet now set a global example.”