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American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside is known for more than just his uber-charismatic presence on the ballet stage; He doubles as both the drag queen Ühu Betch and the pop star JbDubs. Whiteside's newest musical release, titled WTF, came out last week, and is for sure his most ballet-filled song to date. Both the lyrics and the choreography are jam-packed with bunhead references, from the Rose Adagio to Haglund's Heel to a framed portrait of George Balanchine. Not to mention the fact that he and his four backup dancers (Matthew Poppe, Douane Gosa, Maxfield Haynes and Gianni Goffredo) absolutely kill it in pointe shoes.

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Ballet Careers
Boston Ballet in Jorma Elo's "Bach Cello Suites" for BB@home. Photo by Sabi Varga, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

This year, Boston Ballet's annual choreographic workshop is all about empowering women. Taking place in Boston Ballet's black box theater November 1-2, BB@home: ChoreograpHER will feature six works by women of various ranks in the company.

"Given the reality that the majority of produced choreographers have been male, I am excited this BB@home program encourages our talented female dancers who have an interest in choreography by giving them a platform to gain experience as choreographers," said artistic director Mikko Nissinen in a statement.

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Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has helped spotlight sexual harassment, as well as verbal and emotional abuse, in the ballet industry. Most recently, a lawsuit filed by Alexandra Waterbury against New York City Ballet and principal dancer Chase Finlay, who has since resigned, revealed particularly chilling behavior. Earlier this week, we posted an article that struck a nerve with our audience. We've received some heated responses. We hear you, and we want to take this opportunity to give you a voice to address concerns and ask questions about recent claims of abuse in the ballet world.

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News
Chase Finlay in Balanchine's Apollo. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

Former School of American Ballet student Alexandra Waterbury, 19, is suing New York City Ballet and her ex-boyfriend, former principal dancer Chase Finlay.

Finlay resigned suddenly last week, and principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro were put on unpaid leave for the remainder of 2018 because of "inappropriate communications" of a "personal nature."

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News
The Paris Opéra Ballet has remained mostly silent in response to the dancers' calls for reform. Photo courtesy Zipporah Films

You'd think the Paris Opéra Ballet would be in damage-control mode after a leaked dancers' survey, in April, brought up worrying reports of harassment and mismanagement. But instead of addressing these issues internally, the French company is suing one of its own dancers in order to strip him of his union representative status and subsequently be free to fire him.

Dalloz Actualité, a French online magazine specializing in legal matters, elaborated on the lawsuit in an article published last week. The corps de ballet dancer taken to court, whom we'll call "S." to protect his identity, wasn't actually a member of the Commission for Artistic Expression, the elected group of dancers who put together the survey. He is described as a "geek" who provided technical support to ensure the validity of the results.

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Ballet Careers
Georgina Pazcoguin as Hippolyta in Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

In January, when news broke that Peter Martins had retired from New York City Ballet amid allegations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse, I was sitting with my mother, a former dancer and teacher. We stared at the headline in shock, wondering what this meant for the future of ballet as a whole: In the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, cultural shifts were stirring, and conversations about feminism and workplace equality plunged into ballet. Some of my favorite dancers started sharing their statements and stances on Instagram, and their comments sections were bursting with dancers and ballet fans all struggling to define what feminism and equality in our art form would look like—or if it is even possible. Especially since female dancers have historically been considered muses to be seen and not heard, to perform but not lead.

Feminism isn't just possible in ballet—it's necessary, and the biggest part of that is an artistic advantage, too: empowering dancers to have and use their own voices.

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Scottish Ballet artistic director Christopher Hampson. Photo Courtesy Scottish Ballet.

Ever since accusations of sexual harassment and abuse against New York City Ballet's former ballet master in chief Peter Martins surfaced a few months ago, the dance world has been on edge. While NYCB's investigation into those claims could not be corroborated, the turmoil it caused and its aftermath have forced opened ballet's closet of skeletons. In a career that can be so rewarding yet so ruthless, certain aspects of dance culture are taking on a new light.

Many point to the power dynamics between dancers and artistic staff as one reason why artists are vulnerable to mistreatment. Mix job scarcity, intense competition and an extremely disciplined training regime with the fact that dancers are often just teenagers when they start their careers, and it's easy to see how things can become skewed.

During my career, the majority of artistic leaders I worked with were wonderfully supportive mentors who knew how to temper high expectations with encouragement. But I've also been harshly yelled at, ignored and subjected to mind games by others. I've seen colleagues get treated poorly. And when those lines are crossed, you feel like you don't have much leverage. Just yesterday, the Huffington Post detailed harrowing accounts from several former NYCB and Pennsylvania Ballet dancers. Each claimed extreme body shaming and verbal abuse by artistic staff, with one company going so far as to dictate the dancer's method of birth control.

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Peter Martins. Photo by Adam Shankbone, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The New York Times reports that a two-month long internal investigation into sexual harassment and physical abuse allegations against Peter Martins, New York City Ballet's former ballet master in chief, has found that the accusations could not be corroborated. In December, an anonymous letter sent to NYCB and its affiliated School of American Ballet accused Martins of sexual harassment, although the claims were non-specific. Afterwards, several former dancers and one current company member came forward to the press accusing him of physical assault and verbal abuse. Martins, who directed the company for 35 years and has denied the accusations, retired on New Year's Day after taking a leave of absence. An interim team led by ballet master Jonathan Stafford has been overseeing the company in the meantime.

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