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When news about the lawsuit against New York City Ballet and Chase Finlay emerged last week, plaintiff Alexandra Waterbury, a former School of American Ballet student, told The New York Times:

"Every time I see a little girl in a tutu or with her hair in a bun on her way to ballet class, all I can think is that she should run in the other direction," she said, "because no one will protect her, like no one protected me."

It was quite a statement, and it got us thinking. Of course, it's heartbreaking to imagine the experiences that Waterbury lists in the lawsuit, and it's easy to see why this would be her reaction.

But should aspiring ballet dancers really "run in the other direction"? Were her alleged experiences isolated incidences perpetuated by a tiny percentage of just one company—or are they indicative of major problems in today's ballet culture within and beyond NYCB's walls?We reached out to a variety of authorities in the field to hear their reactions to her statement.

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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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Chase Finlay as Apollo. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet will be three male principals short this season. Due to "inappropriate communications," Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro have been suspended without pay until 2019, and Chase Finlay has resigned, effective immediately, according to The New York Times. (Finlay's name has already disappeared from the company roster on nycballet.com.)

A statement from the NYCB board chairman said they received a letter from someone outside of the company "alleging inappropriate communications made via personal text and email by three members of the company" that were "personal in nature." It added that the board's efforts to reach Finlay to even discuss the allegations were unsuccessful, which leads us to believe that it must have been quite a serious offense.

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Ballet Stars
Jacques d'Amboise and Adrian Danchig-Waring in conversation at the National Dance Institute. Photo Courtesy NDI.

"Jerry, throughout his life, wanted a world where races, cultures and people came together without conflict and hate and anger, but lovingly, to make a community." These words were spoken earlier this week by Jacques d'Amboise at an event titled Upper West Side Story: A Celebration of Jerome Robbins, hosted by National Dance Institute, which d'Amboise founded in 1976 to provide free arts education to children in New York City and beyond. D'Amboise then reiterated his point by quietly singing the famous refrain from West Side Story, which Robbins choreographed and directed for both screen and stage: "There's a place for us."

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Ballet Stars

There are moments when a dancer and a role match up in a way that sends a shiver through the audience. During Chase Finlay’s first performances of George Balanchine’s Apollo last year, the similarities between the New York City Ballet dancer and the young god were arresting: Both were beautiful but rough-hewn, testing the limits of their considerable powers. Finlay was green—just 20 at the time—but the purity of his line, the plasticity of his jump and the gracious nobility of his carriage softened any unpolished moment. And beyond his raw excitement about standing alone at center stage, he exuded real, magnetic authority. As Apollo, Finlay gave us a glimpse of the artist he might become.

 Now 21, Finlay has turned many heads—and not just because he is (as it has become customary to note) six feet, blond and classically handsome. Singled out for his charisma and technique, he’s had, like many young NYCB dancers before him, extraordinary opportunities early in his career. But whether a dancer continues to grow after sink-or-swim tests like Apollo can be a toss-up. Still something of an attractive cipher onstage, Finlay is just beginning to invent himself. Apollo’s path to Mount Olympus was predestined; the ultimate extent of Finlay’s ascent is up to him.

Finlay, who grew up near New York City in the affluent suburb of Fairfield, Connecticut, discovered ballet the way many boys do: He followed his older sister to the studio. “I was really into lacrosse at the time, and I thought taking a couple of ballet lessons might help,” he says. But at age 7, after seeing a performance of Balanchine’s Nutcracker in Stamford, Connecticut—featuring several School of American Ballet students—he decided to train in earnest. “When the Chinese guy came out in the second act and started doing split jumps, I was like, ‘Whoa!’ ” he remembers. “I turned to my mom and said, ‘I have to do this for real.’ The athletic aspect of it was so appealing.”

Darla Hoover, associate artistic director of Ballet Academy East, remembers watching Finlay two years later in that same Nutcracker production. “You couldn’t miss him,” she says. “Of course he was adorable, this little blond boy, but he was also totally at ease up there.” By that time, Finlay and his sister (Page, who went on to dance with San Francisco Ballet and Oregon Ballet Theatre) were commuting to New York to train with Hoover at BAE. “Darla became a second mom to me,” Finlay says. “I was good friends with her son Trevor”—now a Boston Ballet II dancer—“so I was always over at her apartment hanging out. She took me under her wing, in ballet class and outside of it.” Finlay was obviously gifted, but Hoover wasn’t about to let him coast through his training. “She kicked my butt, which I needed,” Finlay says, laughing.

After several years studying Balanchine technique with Hoover, the teenage Finlay faced an important decision: take a contract with American Ballet Theatre’s second company or enter the School of American Ballet in the hopes of eventually joining NYCB. He chose SAB; it was a gutsy move. “At ABT, there’s a tendency to let young dancers sit in the corps for a while, wearing a bunch of funny costumes,” he says. “With the repertoire that NYCB does, I thought I’d get more exciting experience right off the bat, assuming I made it into the company.” At age 17, he became an NYCB apprentice.

Soon—remarkably soon—the roles started coming. Once Finlay was promoted to the corps in 2009, he danced featured parts in Robbins’ Interplay and 2 and 3 Part Inventions, Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 and the pas de quatre from Peter Martins’ Swan Lake. A special highlight was Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, which Finlay performed with an otherwise all-principal cast. It was his first time partnering the majestic Sara Mearns, whom he’d idolized as a student.

Mearns was impressed by Finlay’s partnering. “He had great instincts,” she remembers, “and he really listened. That’s what you need—someone who’s there mentally and physically.” Though Finlay was initially in awe of Mearns, he soon found that the “intimidation factor” worked to his advantage. “Dancing with Sara is almost like a competition: She’s brilliant, and she pushes me,” he says. “But I push right back. I do well under pressure.” Onstage together, Mearns and Finlay crackle, feeding off that competitive energy.

Finlay stepped into the brightest of spotlights last spring, when, thanks in part to another dancer’s injury, he made his debut as Apollo. Though he was shocked to be given a chance at the role, Hoover wasn’t surprised. “Apollo was something I saw coming Chase’s way a long time ago,” she says. “He is Apollo—he just is. Before he even moves.” NYCB artistic director Peter Martins had no qualms about entrusting the part to Finlay. “He was obviously the right type,” Martins says. “The look, and the facility. I had every confidence in him. He was ready.”

With Mearns’ encouragement, Finlay studied tapes of Peter Boal, Nikolaj Hübbe, Jacques d’Amboise, Ib Andersen and Martins in the role, and worked intensely with Martins and coach Richard Tanner. He also learned to deal with some inevitable unpleasantness. “There were a lot of established guys who expected to get Apollo,” he says. “For a while, I was getting those sideways looks in the hall. It was uncomfortable.” He turned to principals Andrew Veyette and Amar Ramasar for support. “They’ve had my back since I joined the company,” he says. “They tell me when I look bad out there, but I like that they’re real with me. And they’ve been through similar things. They know what it’s like.”

Finlay’s Apollo debut was a smash. (“He shows the artist’s journey as an adventure story in which everything is new,” Alastair Macaulay wrote in The New York Times.) A few months later, Martins promoted Finlay to soloist. “I was thrilled for him,” Mearns says, “but I was actually happy for me, too. I was like, yes—now we really get to dance together.”

With rave reviews and promotions comes a lot of pressure. It’s a feeling Mearns, who had her breakout performance in Swan Lake at age 19, is all too familiar with. “At this point, when you’re rising fast, there are so many distractions that can pull you away from ballet,” she says. “I learned, and Chase has to remember, never to lose focus. With a talent like Chase has, he can’t afford to veer away.”

But for the moment, Finlay is just enjoying the ride, and trying to “stay normal,” he says. Modeling stints for Abercrombie & Fitch and French Vogue aside, he insists he’s a regular guy. He’s a New York Giants fan who spends his days off watching football at sports bars. He plays the drums, and jams with fellow NYCB musicians Joaquin de Luz, Ask la Cour and Zachary Catazaro. And he still has dinner with Hoover frequently. “She knocks me down a peg when I need it,” he says.

NYCB dancers are notoriously loyal to Balanchine’s company, and Finlay is no exception. But he does dream of guesting opportunities at ABT, the Kirov or The Royal Ballet that would allow him to tackle big classical leads. “I love the rep I’m dancing at NYCB, but I’ve always seen myself as a classical dancer,” he says. “I don’t exactly want to be David Hallberg, but the path he went on? That would be pretty awesome.”

“Chase has more growing to do, but people will always notice him,” Mearns says. “How can you not? He’s the perfect prince. There are moments now when he’s intimidating to me.”

"Both professions require one to know their bodies really well, and to have discipline, like understanding how to move and make shapes. If you know your body, it’s not as awkward when you’re modeling because you’re already super conscious," says Laura Love about the connection between modeling and dance to James Lin of nymag.com's "The Cut" blog. Love performed with Los Angeles Ballet before quitting the stage a couple of years ago to become a model. The fashion world fell for her after photographer Bruce Weber shot an epic 15-page editorial with Love and New York City Ballet's Chase Finlay (our last issue's cover boy) for the April 2011 issue of French Vogue. But although Love says she enjoys having more time since giving up the disciplined life of a ballet dancer, she admits she still dances one and a half to three hours a day. You can take the girl out of the ballet world, but you can't take ballet out of the girl.

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