Saratoga Springs

New York City Ballet scandal leaves some wondering about legacy

'Is the style of Balanchine going to be lost?'
Peter Martins, then the leader of the New York City Ballet, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on April 4, 2013.
Peter Martins, then the leader of the New York City Ballet, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on April 4, 2013.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The retirement of Peter Martins from the New York City Ballet amid sexual harassment allegations has left some local dance experts wondering about potential impacts on the art form.

Martins, 71, worked with famed choreographer and dancer George Balanchine, who co-founded the dance school in 1934 and the City Ballet in 1948. Balanchine is widely recognized as the most influential choreographer of 20th-century ballet, and Martins worked with him for nearly 17 years, carrying on his legacy well after Balanchine died in 1983.   

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Dianne Carola, the owner of The Dance Factory in Saratoga Springs, is concerned about the future of the dance style itself.  

“Is the style of Balanchine going to be lost?” Carola said, adding that not many dancers/choreographers can do what Martins has done.  

“I think that preserving Balanchine’s work is important,” she said.

The National Museum of Dance was not as concerned. The museum has collaborated often with the New York City Ballet over the years, and director Laura DiRado said she looks forward to working with them in the future. 

The New York City Ballet has also been a staple at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center since it first opened in 1966. The company is slated to perform for one week in the 2018 season as well. 

“This is the end of an era at New York City Ballet. We look forward to working with NYCB’s new leadership on its continued partnership with SPAC and presence in Saratoga,” said Elizabeth Sobol, president and CEO of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. 

Martins, who was the ballet’s master in chief, was accused of sexual harassment in December. According to The New York Times, five City Ballet dancers came forward and said Martins physically and verbally abused them. The dancers cited incidents dating back to 1993. Martins was suspended from his teaching duties at the school shortly after the news broke.

Martins denied the allegations in a letter to the ballet’s board of directors, according to The New York Times. He went on to say the allegations “inflicted on the ballet and the school — institutions which I love and to which I have devoted 50 years of my life — a tremendous toll of turmoil, disruption and expense.”

“It also has exacted a painful toll on me and my family,” he said, adding that he decided to retire in order to “bring an end to this disruption.”

The chairman of the ballet’s board, Charles W. Scharf, thanked Martins for his work in a prepared statement but said an investigation into the allegations was ongoing. 

The New York City Ballet is in the midst of searching for a new leader. In the interim, a four-person team comprised of Justin Peck, Rebecca Krohn, Jonathan Stafford and Craig Hall has been appointed to lead the company.

“They have a nice group leading it now,” DiRado said, “They all bring something different to the table.”

For the long term, Carola thinks Suzanne Farrell is the ideal candidate. Farrell is a ballerina who trained with and was presented by Balanchine. Farrell’s on-stage career was relatively long, spanning from 1961 to 1989, and when she created her own ballet company, according to The New York Times, Balanchine’s work was at the core of every performance. 

According to The Times, Justin Peck (the resident choreographer), Wendy Whelan and Benjamin Millepied are all considered candidates to succeed Martins.  

“Balanchine’s style and passion and love for the ballet can best be passed on by his previous students who understood and respected him,” Carola said, “Whoever replaces him, hopefully, will be equally gifted.”

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