The setting of a sun god

Peter Martins at a Metropolitan Opera premiere in 2009. Photograph by David Shankbone.

Peter Martins at a Metropolitan Opera premiere in 2009. Photograph by David Shankbone.

There were no less than three sexual harassment stories in Tuesday’s New York Times.

A story headlined “300 Strong:  Hollywood Women Unite to Fight Harassment” detailed the agenda of the new Time’s Up initiative, which includes a legal defense fund, already backed by $13 million in donations, to protect underprivileged women “from sexual misconduct and the fallout from reporting it.” The initiative is also calling for women to turn the Golden Globes’ red carpet Sunday into a bully pulpit as they don basic black to talk about the sexual harassment issue instead of what they’re wearing.

Meanwhile, a new, more traditional production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca” made its New Year’s Eve debut at The Metropolitan Opera, after having been plagued by numerous high-profile dropouts, including music director emeritus James Levine, suspended for sexual misconduct. (Oddly enough, “Tosca” – whose new production is redeemed here, according to the critics, by a cast led by Sonya Yoncheva and Vittorio Grigolo – is a tale of sexual harassment as the opera singer Floria Tosca is blackmailed by Roman police chief Scarpia into exchanging sex for the life of her lover, Cavaradossi.)

Across Lincoln Center Plaza at the David A. Koch Theater, the New York City Ballet is apparently reeling at the retirement of the man who has led it for more than 30 years, Peter Martins. 

One of the greatest male dancers of the 20th century and a superb partner who developed a legendary, Olympian teaming with Suzanne Farrell – the press used to call them “Mr. and Ms. God” – Martins was known as an effective administrator and a first-rate fundraiser. But he made headlines offstage in 1992 when he was charged with assaulting wife Darci Kistler, one of the last of the ballerinas molded by George Balanchine, who had founded the company with Lincoln Kirstein and hand-picked Martins to succeed him. (The charges were later dropped.)

For his part, Martins has maintained his innocence but acknowledged the allegations have taken their toll. (He was arrested for driving while intoxicated Dec. 28 after a minor traffic accident in Ardsley, N.Y. It was his second DWI arrest.)

On Tuesday, principal dancers Sterling Hyltin and Megan Fairchild defended him. I’ve been watching him since I was a child – his appearance with Farrell in Balanchine’s “Apollo” and any number of works is imprinted in my mind – and I have covered him and the company since about the time he succeeded Balanchine in the 1980s. He always conducted himself in a professional, gentlemanly manner. More than that, he had a way of making you feel as if you were the only other person in the room.

But the charges of verbal, physical and even sexual abuse against him are severe. Now some fans are calling on Farrell – who has shown herself to be a capable leader and keeper of the Balanchine flame with her own company – to take over City Ballet. There is an irony here. Farrell fled City Ballet in the early 1970s when the obsessed, possessive Balanchine began to blacklist her new hubby (and fellow company member) Paul Mejia. (She returned triumphantly in 1975, which is when her partnership with Martins took off.)

While Balanchine was well-known for his single-mindedness regarding his muses, Jerome Robbins, the other choreographic genius in residence, was well-known as a cruel taskmaster. Would either have survived #MeToo?

This doesn’t excuse Martins’ behavior. But it does put it in context. The history of civilization is in part the history of the use and abuse of power – perhaps the ultimate game men play.


Tags:  New York City Ballet, Peter Martins, #MeToo, Time’s Up, The Golden Globes, Sterling Hyltin, Megan Fairchild, Vittorio Grigolo, Sonya Yoncheva, “Tosca,” The Metropolitan Opera, James Levine,