Site Network

As 'West Side Story' Protest Against Amar Ramasar Looms, His Girlfriend Speaks Out

Amar Ramsar's girlfriend and New York City Ballet corps dancer, Alexa Maxwell. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy of The PR Social

Over the past few weeks, tensions have risen around New York City Ballet principal Amar Ramasar's casting in the Broadway revival of West Side Story, set to open February 20. Ramasar is currently embroiled in a lawsuit surrounding the sharing of sexually explicit photos of a female dancer. In light of a protest against Ramasar's casting scheduled for tonight outside the Broadway Theater, his girlfriend of five years, New York City Ballet corps dancer Alexa Maxwell, identified herself as the dancer in his photos and released a statement sharing her point of view.


"I am not a victim in this and no longer wish for my truth to be misrepresented," wrote Maxwell in a statement. "The incident was a personal matter between me and Amar; and I am OK with what happened."

In August of 2018, former School of American Ballet student Alexandra Waterbury accused Chase Finlay, then a principal at NYCB and her ex-boyfriend, of sharing sexually explicit photographs of her with Ramasar and several other men without her consent. She also revealed that Ramasar and NYCB principal Zachary Catazaro had exchanged explicit photos of dancers with Finlay, and filed a lawsuit against them, as well as a donor, NYCB and School of American Ballet. Finlay immediately resigned from the company, and Ramasar and Catazaro were ultimately fired. Last April, the dancers' union, the American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that it was unjust; Catazaro and Ramasar were reinstated in a decision made by an independent arbitrator. Catazaro declined the offer, but Ramasar chose to return to the company.

Last July, the producers behind West Side Story announced that Ramasar would be joining the cast in the role of Bernardo. The decision has sparked outrage: a Change.org petition to remove Ramasar from the show's cast started last month by college student Megan Rabin has already gained nearly 24,000 signatures. And in recent weeks Paige Levy, a student at New York's LaGuardia High School, has taken to social media to organize a series of weekly protests outside of the Broadway Theater, where West Side Story is currently in previews.

In her statement, Maxwell said that she was "exasperated" by online comments. "On social media Alexandra and other people out there have recklessly tossed around phrases like 'rapist,' 'sexual predator,' and 'pedophile' when referring to Amar," going on to say that in Waterbury's lawsuit she doesn't allege that he fits any of these descriptions.

"The only photograph that was shared by Amar was of me, his girlfriend of nearly five years," Maxwell continued, adding that she knew about them at the time they were taken. Sharing them with Finlay "was a misstep in judgement," she says, but she and Ramasar have worked through it. She also states that shortly after the lawsuit was filed, she and Waterbury had an hour-long phone conversation, where Waterbury encouraged her to join the suit. "According to her New York City Ballet 'is worth half a billion dollars' and I 'would win, and win, like, a lot' and 'could literally have an entirely new life.' I explained to Alexandra that I had no interest in that." Maxwell goes on to say, "It is not my mission to diminish the feelings of Alexandra's but want to bring to light some facts that have been misrepresented across multiple platforms."

The New York Times reported today that Waterbury's lawyer, Jordan K. Merson, called the timing of Maxwell's statement "suspect," and said her description of their conversation was inaccurate, without going into specifics. In a statement in Waterbury's Instagram story from earlier today she wrote that Maxwell was taking her words out of context: "Her attempt to discredit me and make me look like I'm after money is sad."

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.