The New York City Ballet and its affiliated training arm, the School of American Ballet, are investigating allegations of sexual harassment against Peter Martins, who heads both institutions, according to statements issued Monday night. Martins, 71, has been removed from teaching his weekly class at SAB while the investigation is underway.
The allegations were made in an anonymous letter, which made “general, non-specific allegations of sexual harassment in the past by Peter Martins at both New York City Ballet and the School,” SAB said in its statement.
“We, together with New York City Ballet, promptly engaged an independent law firm that specializes in such matters to conduct a thorough investigation, despite the anonymous nature of the letter and the lack of specifics,” the statement continued.
“Thus far, the investigation has not substantiated the allegations in the letter or discovered any reason to be concerned about student safety.”
Martins is ballet master in chief of NYCB — the top job that most companies call artistic director — and is artistic director and chairman of faculty at SAB.
NYCB issued a similar statement that said it and SAB have hired a law firm to launch a “comprehensive inquiry” and that the letter’s allegations have not been substantiated.
In a recent interview, Wilhelmina Frankfurt, a former NYCB dancer, said she was among the SAB alumni called in to meet with SAB executive director Carrie W. Hinrichs shortly before Thanksgiving to discuss the anonymous sexual harassment allegations. She said she was contacted after Hinrichs saw an article Frankfurt wrote in 2012, which Frankfurt recently posted on Facebook. In it, Frankfurt compares Martins to NYCB founder George Balanchine: “As a dancer, Peter Martins was a magician. To see him dance was to forgive him everything. But as a Dance Master? The only way that Peter rivaled Mr. B was as a casanova.”
Frankfurt said Hinrichs told her, “It’s come to our attention that there’s been sexual misconduct on a very high level at our school.” Frankfurt said that the investigative team includes Kay Mazzo, co-chair of faculty; SAB chairman Barbara M. Vogelstein; and a lawyer and that the team is seeking dancers who have knowledge of misconduct.
Hinrichs asked Frankfurt whether she could be helpful to them. “I told them I would think about it and that I would get back to them,” Frankfurt said, adding that SAB officials have tried to contact her since but that she declined to meet with them further.
Several dancers contacted recently by The Washington Post said Martins has had affairs with some of his dancers over the years since he assumed leadership of the company after Balanchine’s death in 1983.
This is not the first time that Martins’ behavior has come under fire. In 2011, he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. In 1992, Martins was charged with third-degree assault against his wife, Darci Kistler, who at that time was a 28-year-old principal ballerina with the company. The charges were made while the company was performing at its summer home in Saratoga Springs, New York. Martins was arrested and briefly jailed after Kistler called the police early one morning to report that during an argument, Martins, then 45, had pushed and slapped her so that she fell into another room and cut her ankle and that he had continued to hit her.
The arrest was front-page news, with headlines such as this one in the New York Daily News: “BALLET BULLY: NYC Ballet boss busted in beating of ballerina wife.”
Ballet officials immediately downplayed the assault charge. Peter Wolff, a member of the school’s board of directors at the time, told The New York Times that the assault charge was “a personal matter” and would not affect Martins’ career.
“It has nothing to do with his competency or his support in the ballet community,” Wolff said then.
A few days later, Kistler dropped the charges.
Former ballerina Gelsey Kirkland describes Martins’ aggressive behavior in her 1986 autobiography, “Dancing on My Grave.” Kirkland, one of the most acclaimed dancers of her generation who was a principal at both NYCB and the American Ballet Theatre, describes attending a party at Martins’ apartment in 1974 at which Martins grew angry with NYCB dancer Heather Watts, with whom he had an on-again, off-again relationship.
“Peter became violent,” Kirkland wrote. “He dragged her back upstairs and their fight became so heated that they had to be broken apart.”
A woman who was present at the party and an NYCB dancer at the time has confirmed Kirkland’s account to The Washington Post.