Peter Martins, the longtime director of New York City Ballet who is under investigation by his own institution following accusations by dancers of physical violence and sexual misconduct, announced on Monday that he is retiring “to bring an end to this disruption.”
Yet why retire now, while the investigation is still going on? Nowhere in the letter of resignation that Martins, 71, wrote to board members of NYCB and its affiliated School of American Ballet, which Martins also headed, does he mention what was surely a contributing factor in his abrupt decision to step down: his arrest two days prior.
Martins was arrested the evening of Dec. 29 and charged with driving while intoxicated, according to statements from the Westchester County district attorney’s office and the Ardsley, N.Y., police department. Police in Ardsley, near Martins’s home in Irvington, responded to a three-car accident at 8 p.m. and arrested Martins, who refused a blood-alcohol test, according to police. He was issued an appearance ticket; his court date is Jan. 8.
Calls on Tuesday to Martins’s home were not answered. NYCB had no comment on the matter.
The DWI charge is a throwback, almost to the day, to a prior charge: Martins pleaded guilty to driving while impaired early on New Year’s Day in 2011.
Charles W. Scharf, NYCB board chair, also issued a statement Monday, thanking Martins for his “tremendous contributions” to the company he has led for more than 30 years. Scharf added that the board “takes seriously the allegations that have been made against him and we expect the independent investigation of those allegations to be completed soon.”
Neither Martins nor Scharf made reference to Martins’s arrest. But Martins wrote in his letter that he believes the investigation’s findings “would have vindicated me.”
Is that overly optimistic? His statement sounds unduly confident, given what looks like a pattern of destructive behavior. Certainly Martins is no stranger to run-ins with the law — he was also arrested in 1992 and charged with assault on his wife, ballerina Darci Kistler, who claimed he pushed and slapped her, causing her to fall and cut her leg. She later dropped the charges.
Dancers have also accused Martins of hostility and physical aggression. Such accusations are why he has been on leave from the company and the school since early December, when The Washington Post contacted him about an accusation of physical violence made by former NYCB soloist Kelly Boal. Martins denied Boal’s claim, as he has denied a charge of sexual misconduct in an anonymous letter that was sent to the school, and subsequent claims of violence reported by the New York Times. He repeated his denials in his letter to board members.
Some NYCB dancers have made supportive statements about Martins. “Devastated for this man who has been nothing but INCREDIBLE to me,” tweeted Robert Fairchild, a principal dancer who recently left the company.
Yet others were skeptical that Martins would be removed after the investigation. Boal is one of them, calling into question the quality of the investigation itself.
She said that during her interview with Barbara E. Hoey, the lawyer leading the investigation, “I felt like I was the one being interrogated.” Hoey chairs the labor and employment practice at Kelley Drye & Warren. Boal says Hoey challenged Boal’s description in The Post of being choked, shaken and verbally humiliated by the 6-foot-2 Martins one night backstage in May 1989, an event that so traumatized Boal she spent several years in therapy.
Hoey did not return a call seeking comment.
“I felt she was uninterested in the facts, and was just trying to mess up the timeline,” Boal said. “She asked me, ‘Why weren’t you watching the performance when he grabbed you?’ . . . She was trying to spin it that I wasn’t being punished, challenging me on my memory of how often I danced.”
Boal said Hoey also asked her about a pool party she attended some time later at the home of Martins and Kistler. “Where is the relevance of that? They’re trying to discredit me,” Boal said. By the time of that party, she had quit the company and married NYCB principal Peter Boal (who is now artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet).
“I had to make peace” with Martins, Kelly Boal said, “because my husband worked with him for the next five or six years. I made the effort to make our lives nicer.”
Former dancer Wilhelmina Frankfurt says Hoey asked to interview her but denied her request to record the interview or to provide a transcript. Frankfurt says Hoey told her she could bring someone with her only if that person and Frankfurt signed nondisclosure agreements. Frankfurt declined the interview.
“It’s not unreasonable for me to want a witness,” said Frankfurt, adding that she was concerned the investigation “just wants to make it all look clean.”
Certainly, Martins has his strengths as a director. He’s widely regarded as a top-notch fundraiser, and in difficult financial times for the arts, he kept the company going strong. In 2010, NYCB’s deficit reached a high of $8.5 million, yet it was eliminated in three years, and the company has boasted a modest surplus since then. A company spokesman confirmed that in the company’s fiscal 2017, which ended in June, it also ran a small surplus.
Martins’s stewardship of the works left by NYCB founder George Balanchine, the acclaimed choreographer who died in 1983, is a mixed bag. Martins’s own choreography is largely workaday and unmemorable. Yet he has a gift for spotting greatness in others; he nurtured the choreographic careers of Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon, both of whom became major artists creating work around the world, and Justin Peck, a younger choreographer whose work is also highly in demand.
Into this wake — with Martins’s daunting leadership legacy, and the continuing turmoil over his behavior — who would dare enter?
NYCB has had only two directors, and both have been male. At least one woman, Wendy Whelan, who retired in 2014 as one of the company’s most-lauded stars, is throwing her hat into the ring.
Though she says she has not been approached about the position, “I would definitely have a conversation if anybody wanted to,” Whelan said Tuesday. “I only want what’s best for the company, really, and that’s still to be figured out, with a lot of heads.
“I’ve always seen a man in charge, because it’s traditional there. It’s a slightly sexist company in that way.”
But a woman in charge would be very refreshing. “I think it is time for that to happen,” said Whelan, who danced with NYCB for 30 years. “As a world, as an art form.”