NEW YORK — Peter Martins, the longtime leader of New York City Ballet, has been removed from teaching his weekly class at the School of American Ballet while the two organizations jointly investigate an accusation of sexual harassment against him.
The accusation against Martins, 71, was made in an anonymous letter, both organizations confirmed Monday. Martins is artistic director and chairman of the faculty of the ballet school. He has led City Ballet, the company founded by famed choreographer George Balanchine, since the 1980s.
“The safety and well-being of our students is our absolute priority,” the school said in a statement, adding that it “recently received an anonymous letter making general, nonspecific allegations of sexual harassment in the past by Peter Martins at both New York City Ballet and the school.”
“We, together with New York City Ballet, promptly engaged an independent law firm that specializes in such matters to conduct a thorough investigation, despite the anonymous nature of the letter and the lack of specifics,” the statement continued. “Thus far, the investigation has not substantiated the allegations in the letter or discovered any reason to be concerned about student safety.”
City Ballet issued a similar statement, which said, in part, “the ongoing inquiry has not substantiated the allegations.”
Reached by telephone Monday, Martins said in response to the accusations, “The company has already addressed it.” Asked if he had anything to add, he said, “At this point, no.”
The two organizations have retained a lawyer, Barbara Hoey, to conduct the investigation. Hoey, chairwoman of Kelley Drye’s labor and employment practice group, declined to comment.
As part of the investigation, Martins is believed to have discussed romantic relationships he has had with female dancers, according to a former official at City Ballet with knowledge of the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Rob Daniels, a spokesman for City Ballet — which has collaborated with Saratoga Performing Arts Center for more than 50 years — said that since 2010 it “has had a policy precluding a reporting relationship between a supervisor and subordinate where a romantic relationship exists.”
Along those lines, Jed Bernstein was forced out last year as president of Lincoln Center — which has such a policy — after an anonymous complaint revealed that he had been involved in a consensual relationship with a woman who worked for him, and whom he had twice promoted.
In recent interviews, two former City Ballet dancers and three former students at the school described a culture in which Martins was known for sleeping with dancers, some of whom received better roles because of their personal relationships with him.
The world of ballet is a fuzzy area, those involved say, in which people are regularly touching one another through choreography and instruction. An artistic leader like Martins looms large — particularly among up-and-coming, young dancers — as a producer who decides which ballets are performed; as a casting director who determines which dancers land the best parts; and as a father figure who designates dancers for promotion.
Balanchine, who was known as Mr. B, wielded tremendous power over the lives of the dancers in his company. He famously discouraged female dancers from marriage and from having children; he insisted that their boyfriends leave them at the stage door — not enter the theater — and that each dancer wear a different perfume so that he could easily identify them.
In a 2012 article on Balanchine in Psychology Tomorrow, Wilhelmina Frankfurt, a former City Ballet dancer, said: “The only way that Peter rivaled Mr. B. was as a Casanova. However, where Mr. B. was charm incarnate, Peter was a basher.”
In 1992, Martins was charged with third-degree assault against his wife, Darci Kistler, then a principal dancer in the company. Kistler told police that her arms and legs had been cut and bruised. The misdemeanor charge was dropped.
In 2011, Martins was arrested on New Year’s Day and charged with driving while intoxicated.
Martins was a star of the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen when he joined City Ballet in 1970. In 1983, he became co-ballet master in chief with Jerome Robbins, taking over that role entirely in 1990.