NYCB shakeup: one dancer out, two suspended

Number of male principal dancers drops to 10; “a really difficult year for everyone"
Chase Finlay with Teresa Reichlen in George Balanchine’s “Agon,” at David H. Koch Theater in New York in March.
Chase Finlay with Teresa Reichlen in George Balanchine’s “Agon,” at David H. Koch Theater in New York in March.

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NEW YORK — New York City Ballet — three weeks from its fall season and still reeling from the departure of its longtime leader, Peter Martins — said this week that three male principals, Chase Finlay, Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro, would not be performing in the coming season.

In a statement, Charles Scharf, chairman of the City Ballet board, said the company had several weeks ago “received a letter alleging inappropriate communications made via personal text and email by three members of the company.” The letter did not come from someone in the company, and the communications were “personal in nature.” But, after an investigation, the company “determined that each man had violated the norms of conduct that New York City Ballet expects from its employees.”

The statement said that efforts to reach Finlay to discuss the matter were unsuccessful and that he had resigned last week. Ramasar and Catazaro have been suspended without pay until 2019. The three dancers did not respond to requests for comment.

Dancers were informed Monday night in an internal memo that was shown to The New York Times. It was written by Jonathan Stafford, a ballet master and former dancer who is at the helm of an interim leadership team while City Ballet seeks a successor for Martins. He left the company in January after allegations against him of physical and sexual abuse. (Martins denied any wrongdoing, and an investigation by City Ballet and its affiliated School of American Ballet did not corroborate those charges.)

“While we are not at liberty to disclose the specifics of these confidential personnel matters, we wanted you to be aware of this before the start of rehearsals,” on Tuesday, wrote Stafford, who is likely in the running for the post of artistic director — a reimagined version of Martins’ job of ballet master in chief.

Some in the company have questioned whether this week’s punishments are a reaction to the tumultuous departure of Martins. One dancer, who requested anonymity because company members are not authorized to speak on the matter, described the organization’s abundance of caution as a wild swing of a pendulum from the culture of Martins’ tenure, adding, “Everything is under more scrutiny than ever.”

Casting for the coming season has not been posted, but the absence of these three dancers will send ripples through the schedule. Ramasar, whom The New York Times critic Alastair Macaulay has called “an endearing and central artist,” has been away from the company since earlier this year to perform as Jigger in the Broadway revival of “Carousel,” which ends its run Sept. 16. (He is also scheduled to dance with his frequent City Ballet partner, principal Tiler Peck, in a premiere at this year’s Fall for Dance Festival.)

He, as well as Finlay and Catazaro, are familiar faces at the David H. Koch Theater, where they appear often in repertory staples and premieres. On the City Ballet website, the promotional image for Balanchine’s “Jewels,” which opens the season Sept. 18, even features Ramasar.

Catazaro was promoted to principal dancer last fall. In Finlay’s case, his repertory was continuing to expand after his recovery from an injury in 2013. Last season alone, he made role debuts in Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun” and George Balanchine’s “Agon.”

Those two dancers, despite their prominence, haven’t received universal critical praise. Macaulay, writing about the spring 2018 season, said that Catazaro “shows only borderline capacity for bravura roles, while Chase Finlay — physically as impressive as Catazaro, technically stronger, but often an awkward partner — now comes across as more of a stuffed shirt than when he first emerged 10 years ago.”

Their departures are another blow to the company’s dwindling roster — what Macaulay has described as a “shortage of blaze amid the company’s leading men” — of male principal dancers. Robert Fairchild retired last fall, and Joaquin De Luz will give his final performance in October. Without him, and this week’s three exits, the number of male principals will drop to 10, from 14.

Describing the mood in rehearsal Tuesday, a member of the company said that the dancers were whiplashed and fatigued from what has been “a really difficult year for everyone.”

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