The effects of the #MeToo movement on the dance world brought to light accusations against a renowned director. Peter Martins, the former ballet master in chief of the New York City Ballet, stepped down on January 1 after a number of dancers came forward with claims of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse that had allegedly gone on for years. A two-month investigation turned up no corroboration for any of the stories, but Martins did not return to the company. Concurrently, NYCB’s company and school announced new policies to assure dancers “feel safe, respected, and able to voice their opinions and concerns freely.”
Once a star dancer in the company himself, Martins had been handpicked by George Balanchine, the founder and legendary choreographer of New York City Ballet, to succeed him before he died in 1983. Martins had been on the job ever since. While some longtime dancers came to his defense, others spoke up to agree with the initial accusations made, describing the absolute power the director held over the careers of the dancers, and the ways in which he abused that power.
After Martin’s departure, four dancers were chosen to serve as interim directors. All four have traveled to Santa Fe in the past to perform with Stars of American Ballet, the pickup group directed by Daniel Ulbricht, another dancer in the company. Stars returns to the Lensic on Friday, Aug. 3, and Saturday, Aug. 4. The interim directors include Justin Peck (the corps dancer-turned-star choreographer), Craig Hall, Rebecca Krohn, and John Stafford. Whoever Martins’ ultimate replacement is, Ulbricht said the most important requirement is “to be a servant to the legacy. The new director has to have the kind of passion that people can get behind.”
Ulbricht had nothing unkind to say about Martins, his boss for his entire career at NYCB. “Peter was a visionary,” he said. What started as a repository for the ballets of Balanchine and his co-artistic director Jerome Robbins has evolved during Martins’ directorship to include important new voices in dance. “He opened the doors at City Ballet to some of the leading choreographers of our time,” he said. “He brought in Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky; he nurtured Justin Peck. And he was a phenomenal fundraiser. Peter loved the company more than anyone.”
This was also the year of the Jerome Robbins centennial. The choreographer of West Side Story not only worked extensively on Broadway, he became associate artistic director of the New York City Ballet in 1949 and created over 50 ballets, including such classic works as Fancy Free, Dances at a Gathering, The Goldberg Variations, and Glass Pieces. NYCB held a Robbins Festival this winter, offering over 20 works by Robbins, and a chance to reappraise his career alongside Balanchine’s. Ulbricht danced a little-known solo, A Suite of Dances, which was choreographed in 1994 for Mikhail Baryshnikov, set to four movements from Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello. He’ll bring the dance to Santa Fe on the second of two evenings that will each feature different ballets.
“Baryshnikov was forty-two when he asked Robbins to choreograph something for him. Robbins was in a bit of a slump, and this piece helped re-engage him to make work. I joined the company two years after Robbins passed away [in 1998]. I’m thirty-four now, and I don’t think I would have had the maturity, the artistry, to dance this piece until now. It’s a journey piece, not a ‘wow’ piece. It’s internal. That’s a trademark of many Robbins pieces. Mischa helped coach me and Joaquin da Luz [who alternated in the role during the festival]. “His generosity was amazing. It’s an endurance contest — 15 minutes of artistry and athleticism. Dancing to both Robbins and Bach is very special.”
This year, Ulbricht is bringing 14 dancers, a pianist, and a cellist out with him from New York. In addition to the Robbins solo, the “stars” will also present In the Night, a 1970 Robbins ballet set to nocturnes of Frédéric Chopin. Dancing at the Lensic are NYCB members Teresa Reichlen, Ask La Cour, Sterling Hyltin, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Indiana Woodward, Abi Stafford, Tyler Angle, and Alec Knight. Skylar Brandt, from American Ballet Theatre; Joseph Gatti, a ballet competition gold medalist; Danielle Diniz, a musical theater performer; and two ballroom dance pros, Antonina Skobina and Denys Drozdyuk, will also perform during the engagement. As usual, the program is a bit of a hodgepodge, featuring everything from a virtuosic duet from Le Corsaire to a collaboration between Ulbricht, Gatti, and Drozdyuk called Tres Hombres, set to music by Astor Piazzolla.
“My goal every year is to bring Santa Fe the best of the best,” Ulbricht said. “We come to entertain and to educate.” After their performance in Santa Fe, Stars of the American Ballet (with different casting and programs) will be heading to Porto Portugal, the main stage at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Western Massachusetts, and then to Havana, Cuba. “That’s what dancers do on their summer vacations,” he said. “Dance.” ◀
▼ Performance Santa Fe presents Stars of American Ballet
▼ 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, and Saturday, Aug. 4
▼ Lensic Performing Arts Center, 211 W. San Francisco St.
▼ Tickets $14.50-$110, ticketssantafe.org; 505-988-1234