Here’s a flip of the #MeToo script: Powerful women protecting and enabling men who sexually harass male dancers at a company run on public money.
I speak, of course, of the National Ballet of Canada, currently in an uproar over recent revelations in the satirical press that the ballet’s management is a hive of nepotism and sexual blackmail.
Readers will recall anonymous letters from deep within the company claiming that a wealthy Toronto patron had pressured a leading male dancer into a sexual liaison. The victim has remained silent, out of fear of reprisals–given Mr. X’s powerful influence on Bay Street and with the company.
In the fall-out from the Frank story, NBOC management immediately circled the wagons.
Karen Kain, company artistic director, and Julia Drake, her communications hench thingy, launched a PR counter-offensive, telling inquiring journos that it was a non-story, nothing to see here, allemande left and do-si-do.
Privately, Kain & Co. were horrified last week when the Heritage Department, which doled out $2.5-million to the company in 2015, advised all Canadian arts agencies last week that they must exercise ‘best practices’ to address harassment issues, lest they put their federal funding at risk.
To mollify Heritage, the NBOC has launched an internal investigation headed by Cornell C. V. Wright. Wright is a member of the ballet’s all-powerful endowment foundation, along with company patron David Binet (Franks passim.)
Wright is also a longtime friend and colleague of Binet’s. Indeed, they are with the same law firm, Torys LLP, so expectations for Wright’s “investigation” are understandably low.
Meanwhile, an internal memo was fired off to all dancers and artistic staff, ordering them to attend a meeting this week to examine “existing policies and practices.”
Much derisive laughter ensued, as dancers noted this was the first they’d heard of “policies,” and if they did exist, well, so what? They’re having no effect.
A cynic might think that management is more concerned about punishing whoever wrote the anonymous letters than actually cleaning up the operation and ensuring the safety of the dancers.
In common with other arts organizations, the NBOC has allowed wealthy donors like Binet to exert enormous influence. The Woodbridge/Thomson Reuters poobah pumps hundreds of thousands of dollars a year into the company, and he expects management to see things his way.
By remarkable coincidence, Binet’s son, Robert, has been appointed Choreographic Associate for the NBOC. A large portion of next year’s repertoire, to be unveiled next month by Kain, is expected to be Binet Jr.’s creation.
Speaking of nepotism, how about Hannah Fischer? She’s the daughter of husband-and-wife combo Lindsay Fischer and Mandy-Jayne Richardson, the ballet’s artistic supremos.
Hannah was promoted to first soloist last year, a move that prompted one ballet insider, speaking for many others, to remark: “She’s a beautiful girl…lots of potential –but this is terrible optics.”
More backbiting ensued in 2015, when Hannah won the Erik Bruhn prize. Naysayers kvetched that the fix was in because Kain, one of the judges, is close to Hannah’s mother. She turns to Mandy for advice about the artistic merits of dancers, since Kain, too busy mollifying patrons, has no clue about their progress, their suitability for roles and is rarely seen in the classroom.
When she does get involved with dancers, it’s to haul them into her office for body-shaming “fat chats,” in which Kain tells soloists they “need to be smaller.” One would think that Kain might refrain from heaping torment on dancers, as she was teased for having thunder thighs, back in the day.
Hold the mayo, tiny dancers!