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Power Pas de Deux: City Ballet Director Peter Martins vs. Anne Bass; Socialite Withdraws Her Fund-Raising After ProtĂ©gĂ© Incident; Says Seething Hoosier: NYCB â€Feels Irrelevant to Me Now’
By Jason Horowitz
On Sept. 30, powerful socialite and benefactress Anne Bass ended one of the city cultural elite’s oldest pas de deux when she resigned from the board of the School of American Ballet after 25 years.
The school, founded by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein to train Americans in Balanchine’s muscular, daring and revolutionary form of classical dance, and which later gave rise to the New York City Ballet, the resident dance company of Lincoln Center, had been directed since 1983 by the dashing and tempestuous playboy, Peter Martins.
And finally, it is Mr. Martins—and his leadership of the school and the company—that she blames for her exit.
“For me, [the New York City Ballet] feels irrelevant now,” Ms. Bass told The Observer. “It seemed like such an integral part of life years ago.”
In her resignation letter, she was more specific.
“Over the past few years, my escalating concerns over serious issues of governance made it impossible for me to continue,” she began. “I am no longer willing to support an institution that increasingly bears so little resemblance to the one that George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein bequeathed to their successors, and to which I have been committed for over twenty years since my Chairmanship of the 50th Anniversary campaign in 1984.”
The signs were already there: The ex-wife of Fort Worth billionaire Sid Richardson Bass, who had given at least $5 million to the school in the course of her decades on the board, had retracted a $1 million donation in January that was earmarked for a new studio, prompting a Page Six item speculating about her commitment to the organization.
Her criticism of the dance company and the administration at the school, Mr. Martins’ supporters say, reflects that of a handful of disgruntled former board members, including Ms. Bass and a former president of the school, Suzanne Davidson, who was ousted in 2003.
In her resignation letter, Ms. Bass accused Mr. Martins of denying Ms. Davidson a fair review back then.
She also charged that he used students at the school as pawns in his battles with board members who challenged his authority. One dancer that Ms. Bass sponsored to attend the school “suffered cruel and excessive punishment at the hands of the Chairman of the Faculty (Peter Martins) shortly before the end of the school year,” she wrote in the letter.
Mr. Martins’ personal assistant, Deborah Koolish, said that he was unavailable for comment.
Marcia Thompson, a school-board member who has been supportive of Mr. Martins, dismissed the Bass-Martins division as typical of things in the high-powered Lincoln Center offshoot.
“There are always people coming and going off the board,” said Ms. Thompson. “There were artistic differences as well as administrative differences. There is always discord.”
And so, strangely, the difficulty between Anne Bass and Peter Martins—the benefactor and the ballet master—seems archetypal for the school’s board, on which Chelsea Clinton, Wendy Wasserstein and Coco Kopelman also presently serve. Many of the board members present at the spirited and often spiteful meetings of 2003 said they reflected little more than an ugly family spat, a rough patch on the way to greener pastures. The school’s financial health is robust, they said, and none of the boardroom politics ever spilled over into the classrooms.
“There was certainly a tension in the institution,” said Peter Boal, a former principal in the company and a star teacher at the school, who recently left to take a job as director of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.
“Emotions were running high at different times,” said Jeffrey Middleton, the school’s resident pianist, who nevertheless insisted that the staff and students were unaffected. “That was a complicated matter. Everybody had their own viewpoint.”
They still do.
New York Observer Â
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