Martins Retires From New York City Ballet Amid Misconduct Probe

Jan 3, 2018
Originally published on January 3, 2018 11:17 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For almost 30 years, Peter Martins shaped the New York City Ballet. He was the company's ballet master in chief, the main fundraiser and most influential voice until this week, when he became yet another powerful man who lost his job after allegations of sexual misconduct. Some two dozen women and some men have accused Martins of behavior including physical violence and sexual harassment.

New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin broke this story, and she joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ROBIN POGREBIN: Thank you so much. Good to be here.

MARTIN: These stories unfortunately have become to be somewhat formulaic. Everyone starts asking the same question - how could this have happened for so long? What did you learn in your reporting that would answer that question in this case?

POGREBIN: What was particularly fascinating about this particular field is that you didn't have clear victims who were coming forward sort of calling foul. You had a real culture of sort of indoctrination under a very powerful, charismatic leader who had admittedly done some very positive things in terms of bringing this company into the 21st century, but at the same time had been able to sort of reign unchecked for a long time with a kind of behavior that many experienced as bullying and to some extent damaging to their kind of psychological experience and to their careers.

And people were loath to speak out. And only after sort of digging over a number of weeks through my reporting do these experiences come out as formative and decisive. And finally, the ballet seems to be paying attention and have taken action.

MARTIN: Peter Martins was a successful fundraiser. He brought in a whole lot of money to the ballet. Did that play into this?

POGREBIN: I think in this case and - as well as other nonprofit organizations face the same conundrum as this is a company that is largely successful. They've had some financial difficulties in the past, but right now they're kind of going strong. They've been getting good critical reviews. They are bringing in money and are sort of financially stable. And in a case like that when you have a board full of volunteers they're basically, you know, on some level happy to go to the black-tie galas and sort of enjoy the fruits of this success and not look sort of behind the scenes at perhaps the underbelly of an organization like this where some people are suffering and not sort of enjoying this in a positive way.

And this goes back years. I mean, we're talking about over 30 years of people experiencing in the company a kind of body shaming by him, a verbal and physical abuse on some level, and also a kind of a sexual favoritism that seems to kind of have skewed the meritocracy in a way that people found demoralizing.

MARTIN: What will be the repercussions of this? I mean, his departure will leave a big opening there. I mean, what are the consequences of this shift at the ballet and through the larger world of dance?

POGREBIN: It's a good question because I think in addition to finding a successor to him - and there are several candidates out there - this is prompting a real kind of re-evaluation and kind of introspection on the part of this institution and other nonprofits about, you know, whether this culture has to change, a culture that is largely defined by patriarchy, by one powerful leader at the top, and really just a kind of a soul-searching that actually could be healthy in the end.

MARTIN: Robin Pogrebin. She covers the art world for The New York Times. Thanks so much.

POGREBIN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.