It's been a pretty tumultuous year for New York City Ballet. Now with the announcement of former principal dancers Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan taking over the company, we are hoping this will be a positive turning point for the famed company.
Let's take a step back and see how they got here. In late 2017, five City Ballet dancers came forward to accuse Peter Martins, who led the company for more than thirty years, of verbal and physical abuse that went as far back as 1993. As time went on, that number increased to 24 - all former dancers either from the company or the school. They stated that Mr. Martins created a "culture of intimidation", accusing him of subjecting them to body shaming, bullying, and even sexual relationships with several dancers.
Amid the allegations, Mr. Martins stepped down in January of 2018, and an interim leadership team was formed, comprising of Justin Peck, Rebecca Krohn, Jonathan Stafford and Craig Hill. Though the foursome have been working extremely hard to lead such a prolific company, it was never meant to be a permanent set-up.
Stafford had led the interim team, despite never being one of the company's biggest names nor a choreographer, but the company didn't feel like that was a must. Stafford began training with the School of American Ballet in 1997. He then moved through the company from apprentice to principal dancer in eleven years. When he retired from performing in 2014, he became one of NYCB's ballet masters, and stepped up to navigate the company through this extremely difficult and high-profile period of scandal. He will take on the title: Artistic Director of New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet.
Contrastingly, Wendy Whelan is one of the most recognizable names in ballet. She became a student at SAB in 1984, started with the company as a corps de ballet to become a soloist in 1989, and a principal in 1991. In total, she performed with the company for over thirty years, while also performing as a guest artist with The Royal Ballet and The Kirov Ballet. She's made an appearance on the big screen with the documentary film Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan released in 2016. Mrs. Whelan will service as Associate Artistic Director of New York City Ballet.
It's very exciting to see this sort of progress happening - the business of ballet is a typically male-dominated field, so having a thoughtful, experienced and intelligent powerhouse like Wendy Whelan at the forefront of one of America's most treasured companies is a potential sign that the industry is moving forward. In fact, she's the first woman in the history of the company to have a permanent artistic leadership role! She and Mr. Stafford, who made a short pre-curtain speech at one of the company's performances last week, made it clear that they intend to "not only transform the company, but help lead and inspire the larger dance world as well."
photo: Christopher Lane