February 20 was the opening night for Broadway’s West Side Story revival, and it drew a crowd of celebrities like Vanessa Hudgens, Liev Schreiber, Alec Baldwin, and Marisa Tomei on its glamorous red carpet. However, not too far away were dozens of protestors, braving the cold to denounce the casting of Amar Ramasar. Ramasar, who plays Bernando in the production, was one of the men fired from (and later reinstated to) the New York City Ballet under two years ago for exchanging vulgar texts and explicit photos and videos of female company members with several other male dancers without their consent. Pace University is now offering discounted tickets for students to see the show, which will be available for purchase on its campus activities page.
Two years ago, Alexandra Waterbury, a dancer who trained at the School of American Ballet (the NYCB’s affiliate academy), woke up in the apartment of her then-boyfriend, Chase Finlay, a principal dancer at NYCB, and went to check her email on his computer when she discovered the text exchange. In 2019, she filed a lawsuit against the NYCB, the School of American Ballet, Finlay, Ramasar, and two other dancers. Waterbury stated to CNN that “I think that’s what sexual assault looks like in the 21st century, with phones. Like, no, physically, someone’s not touching you and doing something, but they’re taking your physical body and doing whatever they want to it, or with it.” One Pace student, Natalie Kim, had been following Waterbury’s case for a while and was shocked when Ramasar was cast in the show. “I definitely think the university should not have gotten tickets to the show, especially if they want to be on the right side of history,” Kim said.
Alexa Maxwell, a dancer whose photos were involved in the texts, is Ramasar’s current girlfriend and has put out a statement in a New York Times piece saying he has been “unfairly targeted” and that his text messages were “a misstep in judgment.” Waterbury responded in an interview with Vulture, saying “whether or not she says it’s okay now, what he did was illegal. The things that Chase did to me, Amar did to her. She’s going to deal with it in whatever way she needs to deal with it, and that’s obviously trying to avoid the truth of the situation.”
Megan Rabin, a 19-year-old college student, started a petition on Change.org with the intent of making sure that “the theater remains a place where EVERYONE can feel safe, and help[ing to] get Amar Ramasar off the stage.” Rabin grew up dancing (she did it for 10 years), so she was very familiar with the world of ballet. When she was young, she dreamed of dancing with the New York City Ballet, so she followed NYCB dancers and felt as though she had developed a connection with them as she watched them rise in the ranks of the school. “Alex was one of those dancers, and when she came forward about the ring of pictures and videos that were being sent back and forth between male dancers and affiliates of the NYCB, it totally shattered the perfect image of the company I had created in my head. I felt like I needed to do something, because nobody else was, so I started the petition. It [gained] traction right away thanks to Alex, who I had reached out to in December to ask permission to start the petition,” Rabin said. The petition now has over 50,000 signatures and has “been a surreal and incredible experience, and even though Amar is still on stage, I truly feel like we have changed the course of Broadway and what will and won’t be considered acceptable from male performers forever.”
Levy, a local high school senior, started organizing the protests in January via social media sites like Twitter and Instagram. The protesters see Ramasar as a sign of a larger problem within the industry. Right before opening night, the production put out a statement saying that “there is zero consideration being given to his potentially being terminated from this workplace.” “It’d be hard to find a dancer in New York City, male or female, who hasn’t experienced some sort of sexual misconduct in their career,” Waterbury’s best friend Emmy, a dancer and student, told Vulture. “The idea of entering into a career where a man can do these kinds of actions and say these kinds of things and get rewarded with a lead in a Broadway show is very disheartening, as a young performer and as a woman,” Levy noted to Broadway News. “Every time I see a little girl in a tutu or with her hair in a bun on the way to ballet class all I can think is that she should run in the other direction because no one will protect her like no one protected me,” Waterbury declared. Pace senior Kylie Geatz commented “I think it’s insensitive of Pace to support this show knowing the allegations. Despite the fact that no legal action is able to be taken, this ‘locker room’ behavior will continue until there are no more supporters willing to overlook and ignore consequences.”
Todd Smith-Bergollo said “We [SDACA] are aware of the current controversy. We purchased student tickets many months ago before this controversy came to light.” Emily Bresnahan, a senior, remarked: “I think it’s wrong of a school that prides itself in its successful theatre students to buy tickets to this show.” While disappointed with the casting of Ramasar, Kim really wanted to see the revival of her favorite musical and will be purchasing tickets through Pace; “I couldn’t bring myself to buy tickets because of Amar’s involvement, but I still really wanted to see the show so I secretly wished someone would gift me tickets so I could see the show without betraying my conscience. When Pace got tickets, I was simultaneously disappointed and excited.”