NEW YORK — New York City Ballet fired two principal male dancers Saturday morning after they were named in a lawsuit in which a woman accused a third dancer of inappropriately sharing texts of sexually explicit photographs.
City Ballet said it moved to act after assessing the conduct of the dancers and its impact on the company.
The company dismissed Amar Ramasar, one of its brightest stars, and Zachary Catazaro after they were implicated in a photo-sharing scandal that has roiled City Ballet and now created a significant gap in its male roster just before its fall season begins.
The third dancer, Chase Finlay, resigned last month. He was accused in the lawsuit of sending explicit pictures and videos of Alexandra Waterbury, a young woman he had been dating, to his friends without her consent, and asking others to send back explicit photos of their own. The episode has now forced out three of the 14 male principal dancers in the close-knit company.
The upheaval has added more turmoil to City Ballet in a year that began with Peter Martins, its longtime ballet master in chief, abruptly retiring under pressure after the company began investigating allegations of physical and sexual abuse that had been made against him. The company later said it had not corroborated the accusations, which Martins denied.
City Ballet had initially moved last month to suspend Ramasar and Catazaro without pay until next year. The company had investigated the allegations against them and determined that they had “engaged in inappropriate communications, that while personal, off-hours and off-site, had violated the norms of conduct” it expects from dancers.
The company said in a statement Saturday that after hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the City Ballet community, it had decided to fire Ramasar and Catazaro. (The statement also said the company had already made the decision to fire Finlay when he resigned.)
The two dancers released statements in which they expressed their sadness and characterized their firings as a rush to judgment by the company. The dancers’ union, the American Guild of Musical Artists, said it planned to challenge the firings, which it said “relate entirely to non-work related activity and do not rise to the level of ‘just cause’ termination.”
Ramasar said he had been disciplined for “non-work lawful activities between consenting adults” without an understanding of all the facts. “The ballet already suspended me,” he said, “but now, due to pressure caused by a lawsuit filed against it (but not me), has expelled me to appease people who have no idea what really happened. In the days ahead, I will be telling my story.”
Catazaro said he had not played any role in any sharing of “Alexandra Waterbury’s personal material.” He said the private communications he was involved in had taken place during off-work hours and that “the intent was not to harm or embarrass anyone.”
The dismissals of Ramasar and Catazaro were announced at the company’s morning class in its studios at the Rose Building at Lincoln Center, where City Ballet is preparing for its fall season, which is set to begin Tuesday.
“We have no higher obligation than to ensure that our dancers and staff have a workplace where they feel respected and valued, and we are committed to providing that environment for all employees of New York City Ballet,” the company’s executive director, Katherine Brown, and the leader of its interim artistic team, Jonathan Stafford, said in a joint statement.
“We will not allow the private actions of a few to undermine the hard work and strength of character that is consistently demonstrated by the other members of our community or the excellence for which the company stands,” they said.
The allegations were detailed earlier this month in a lawsuit filed by Waterbury, 20, who had trained for several years at the School of American Ballet, the academy affiliated with City Ballet. The suit was against Finlay, whom she had dated, and the ballet company, which she accused of condoning a “fraternity-like atmosphere.” The company denied that it condoned such behavior, noting that it had investigated the allegations as soon as it learned of them this summer and penalized the dancers.
In the suit, filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, Waterbury accused Finlay of sending nude photos of her to Ramasar, and said Ramasar had sent back an image of a bare-chested “female ballet member.” The suit accused Catazaro of having exchanged images with Finlay, but did not specify of what.
Ramasar, a principal since 2009, was one of the company’s leading lights. Born in the Bronx, he established himself as one of City Ballet’s most dynamic, charismatic presences in the core Balanchine repertory and, especially, in new work. This year he appeared as Jigger Craigin in the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel” at the Imperial Theater in what Ben Brantley described in The New York Times as “an electric Broadway debut.” Catazaro, who was born in Canton, Ohio, became a principal dancer with the company in October.
Waterbury’s suit said that nude photos of other female dancers were also shared, and described lewd and misogynistic language in some of the texts, which she said she discovered on Finlay’s computer. The suit said that one donor had written to Finlay about his desire to “violate” dancers at another company, and added, “I bet we could tie some of them up and abuse them like farm animals.” It said Finlay replied “or like the sluts they are.”
Rob Daniels, a spokesman for City Ballet, said the company had identified the donor as a former member of the company’s young patrons circle who had made modest contributions that totaled approximately $12,000 from 2010 to 2016. He said that at the suggestion of some of the dancers in the company, City Ballet would make a donation in that amount to a local charity focused on women’s issues.