West Side Story needs to remember #MeToo

Talent does excuse human indecency

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West Side Story needs to remember #MeToo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Emma Garber, Assistant Op/Ed Editor

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In 2018, three of the ballet world’s most prominent stars came crashing down. Alexandra Waterbury, a young dancer and model, alleged that New York City Ballet dancers Chase Finlay, Zachary Catazaro and Amar Ramasar had shared sexually explicit photos of female dancers without their consent. Ramasar had been a long-time fan favorite of NYCB, and the news that he had participated in such vulgar behavior came as a shock. But the allegations against Ramasar are more than just shocking, they are disgusting and unacceptable. There’s screenshot evidence of Ramasar asking his male cohorts for nude photos and videos of his young, unknowing female coworkers (Waterbury’s screenshots are unsettling, so proceed with caution).

His punishment? Getting to star in a Broadway revival.

This winter, the upcoming West Side Story revival announced its cast list, with Ramasar set to perform the role of Bernardo. This decision was obviously disappointing. There are countless talented performers trying to make it on Broadway. Why cast someone with such an upsetting history? With new choreography and a group of young, accomplished artists, West Side Story should be a new classic, but Ramasar’s casting will leave a stain on the production.

As the show has begun its run, Waterbury has led protests outside the theater each night, calling for Ramasar’s removal. Protestors have held signs reading “Boo Bernardo,” “Keep predators off Broadway” and “Create safe labor conditions.” They have handed out informational pamphlets and chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, that Amar has got to go.” As many as 40 protestors showed up one night. Still, the casting has not changed, and tickets continue to be sold.

But Ramasar’s restitution extends farther than Broadway. Though NYCB initially fired Catazaro and Ramasar, the dancers’ union determined that this decision was unfair. The two were allowed to return under the condition that they seek counseling. Catazaro decided to forgo his contract, but Ramasar returned. Several women in the company voiced discomfort with his reinstatement, but the decision stood. Though Ramasar’s girlfriend has stood in support of the dancer, he should not be rewarded for his wrongdoing. Essentially Ramasar was given a free pass, a slap on the wrist, a “boys will be boys” shake of the head. He was allowed to return to roaring audiences and adoring fans, as long as he went to a few therapy appointments. Meanwhile, Waterbury will have to live with the trauma of living as a victim of sexual harassment for the rest of her life. Where is her applause? Where are her congratulations?

Talent is not an excuse for human indecency. You cannot ignore Ramasar’s history as a sexual predator because he is a talented dancer. He never should have been cast in this production. But Ramasar’s return to the stage is more than just the casting director’s doing. It is the doing of the entire West Side Story team, who have stood beside him and allowed his resume to grow. It is the doing of the New York City Ballet, who rehired Ramasar and continue to perpetrate the toxic, fraternity-like atmosphere that is rancid inside the dance community. It is the doing of the Broadway community, who have praised West Side Story but conveniently bypassed Waterbury’s protests. It is the doing of the show-goers. The doing of the ticket buyers. The doing of the everyday consumers who have bought tickets to actively support a known sexual offender. They are all complicit in his acquittal.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, many have debated if you can separate the art from the artist. Is it wrong to stream “I Believe I Can Fly” knowing that R. Kelly has a history of domestic abuse? Can you enjoy the first few seasons of House of Cards despite Kevin Spacey’s past sexual abuse? At a certain point, we must value justice over entertainment. If we do not hold sexual predators accountable, if we continue to cheer and clap and congratulate their performances, we are condoning what they have done. This is true for all art, but the immediate gratification that comes with a live performance heightens the need for ethical consumption. There is an exaggerated difference between listening to a song from decades past and paying money to sit in a theater and support an abuser. Both require us to reevaluate our priorities, but the latter has a more direct effect.

West Side Story should remove Ramasar immediately from this production. This is an opportunity to send an important message: the world will not condone sexual predators, no matter how talented they may be.

Emma Garber is an Assistant Op/Ed Editor and can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @EmmaGarber1.