The Dance Community Responds to NYCB's Firing of Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro

New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)


The New York Times reports that NYCB says the change from suspension to termination resulted from hearing the concerns of dancers, staff members and others in the NYCB community. Yet it's hard to ignore the fact that a lawsuit against NYCB had been filed in the meantime. A statement from NYCB executive director Kathryn Brown and interim artistic team leader Jonathan Stafford stated:

"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."

Since the news was announced, both Catazaro and Ramasar have spoken out publicly about being fired.

The Two Dancers Speak Out

Catazaro's manager shared this statement via email, which Catazaro also posted on social media:

"I am deeply saddened by New York City Ballet's termination of my contract. I have been a dedicated and respected member of my beloved company for 11 years, fulfilling all of my obligations of rehearsals and performances, and everything else under my contract, while most importantly, giving my all to create the most artistic performances possible, for our audiences.

Firstly, I want to clarify that I did not initiate, was not involved in, or associated with any of Alexandra Waterbury's personal material that was allegedly shared with others.

Although I was initially suspended for other private and personal communications, the NYCB dancers' union--AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists)--maintains that these communications were during off-work hours, and do not justify termination.

Clearly, the negative press from the lawsuit filed by Ms. Waterbury--in which I stress that I have not been named as a defendant--has caused harm to the company's reputation, as well as mine. These circumstances could happen to anyone, in any profession, when personal and private communications are involved but where the intent was not to harm or embarrass anyone.

I have worked my whole life to reach the level of Principal Dancer at a company having the highest prestige, and I am devastated at the possibility to no longer be able to share the stage with the wonderful, talented artists and my friends there. I respect and admire every ballerina with whom I dance at the company, and strive every day to be the best partner I possibly can be.

I sincerely hope that my contract is reinstated, based on AGMA's analysis of the situation, and that I can continue to work with my hard-working and dedicated colleagues at the company. They are my 'family,' and I love and admire them."

Meanwhile, Ramasar posted twice on Instagram, with a promise to soon tell his side of the story:


The Union Plans To Push Back

The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, also announced that they would challenge the decision to fire Ramasar and Catazaro. They told the NYT that the firings "relate entirely to non-work related activity and do not rise to the level of 'just cause' termination."

Of course, it is AGMA's responsibility to ensure that dancers are only fired for "just cause." Yet shouldn't it also fall on the union to make sure that dancers can work in a safe environment, and protect the women at the center of the degrading conversations that have been alleged? It will be interesting to see how they balance these two obligations.

About That Donor

With the news of the terminations also came more information on the anonymous donor who was implicated in comparing female dancers to "farm animals." Apparently, he was a former member of the Young Patrons Circle, and had donated a total of $12,000 over six years. At the suggestion of some very smart dancers, NYCB has now donated that same amount to a local charity focused on women's issues.

But the knowledge that the donor was a member of the Young Patrons Circle reminded some people on social media of NYCB's 2013 ad that overtly marketed the opportunity to meet young, beautiful female dancers as a reason to join. It becomes even more hair-raising in light of the accusations:

Fans React on Social Media

One of the most common reactions on social media over the weekend was summed up succinctly by Dance Magazine's editor at large:


As sad as dance lovers are to see such talent leave the stage, the thought that these accusations might be true is even more depressing.

What It Means for the Company

Dance critic Sarah Kaufman wrote in The Washington Post, "With the company's fall season at New York's Lincoln Center starting Tuesday, audiences must decide whether buying a ballet ticket means checking their consciences at the door."

But tickets to the gala performance next week are already sold out—the drama might not yet be affecting ticket sales as much as one might imagine.

Still, it calls for a serious look at NYCB's company culture. Kaufman writes: "Firing the dancers is not the same thing as fixing, in a carefully considered, long-term manner, what appear to be deep problems at City Ballet."

Meanwhile, a petition has been started to encourage the search committee to hire Wendy Whelan as NYCB's new artistic leader, making her the first woman to hold that role. As of Monday morning, it had already reached nearly 7,000 signatures in less than three days.


Others on Twitter are throwing their support behind Jenifer Ringer (despite not knowing whether she'd even want the job).

Why is it taking so long for the search committee to make a decision? The rumor is that everyone on the committee has their own favorite pick for the job, and no one will compromise. Which raises another one of Kaufman's suggestions: to replace the board itself, whose members have long overlooked problematic behavior in the company.

Either way, it's obviously high time to start a fresh new era at the company.

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After 25 Years, Victoria Morgan to Step Down as Cincinnati Ballet's Artistic Director

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Prior to coming to Cincinnati Ballet in 1997, the Salt Lake City native was a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, as well as resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera. She graduated magna cum laude from University of Utah, where she also earned her MFA, and has judged several international ballet competitions.

Entering her 25th and final season as director, Morgan has accomplished a lot at Cincinnati Ballet, not the least erasing the $800,000 in company debt she inherited at the outset of her tenure. To right the organization's financial ship she had to make tough choices early on—the first task the company's executive committee gave her was to release a third of the company's dancers. In her continuing effort to overhaul how the organization did business, in 2008 she became both the artistic director and CEO and set about building the company's now $14.5 million endowment. For the 2016–17 season, with the arrival of new company president and CEO Scott Altman, Morgan returned to being full-time artistic director and helped lead the realization of the organization's new $31 million home, the Margaret and Michael Valentine Center for Dance.

A champion of female choreographers, Morgan has also choreographed numerous ballets for the company, including world premieres of King Arthur's Camelot and The Nutcracker. She has also helped orchestrate several company collaborations, including 2013's Frampton and Cincinnati Ballet Live and joint productions with BalletMet.

Pointe caught up with Morgan to talk about her recent announcement.

Victoria Morgan is shown from the side standing on stage right, turning to smile at a line of costumed dancers to her left during bows. She wears a patterned green dress with chunky green high heels and holds a red rose in her hand.

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Why leave Cincinnati Ballet now?

It's been an amazing run and I have seen it all. I am not sure where I would go from here. I also feel there is a required stimulus and infusion of new ideas and energy that always needs to be a part of a growing, evolving and exciting arts organization.

What made you happiest at Cincinnati Ballet?

The people, from the devotion of patrons and donors to learning from and feeling the pride in work from the staff. It has also been so satisfying for me to choreograph on and watch so many dancers evolve in their dance careers and lives.

Were there things you wanted to do for the company that you weren't able to?

There were other collaborations I wanted us to explore and choreographers I wanted us to work with. It takes quite an investment to make those happen.

Your legacy includes actively creating opportunities for female choreographers. What motivated that?

I started realizing, in a profound way, the gender inequities in our art form. Because I was in a leadership position, I thought I could do something about this and try to get to a 50-50 balance of male and female choreographers. It took a little time to find women to step forward, but it happened. Now there are many more prominent female choreographers, including our resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald, and I am proud of that.

If you could handpick your successor, what qualities would you look for?

Somebody creative, charged up, and who can be visionary. Someone who has had a high-level experience in our art form. A leader who is demanding but also kind and supportive, and who opens doors to find new ideas while still embracing Cincinnati Ballet's philosophies.

What do you feel will be one of the biggest challenges for the new artistic director?

The important cause of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility). Whoever steps into that position has to have awareness of the culture of today's conversation.

Do you plan to keep choreographing?

I am not being proactive about it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it would be fun.

What's next?

I feel my next calling is bringing movement to the biggest segment of our population, baby boomers. I want to be part of an initiative that makes moving and wellness enjoyable and enlivens people.

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