Ballet academy

Anchorage Ballet Academy troubled by sexual assault allegation against director

Management at an Anchorage ballet academy decides whether to fire its longtime director after a 27-year-old dance student accused him of sexually assaulting her after a performance of ‘The Nutcracker’ earlier this month.

The allegation, reported to Anchorage police and made public in a Facebook post last week, sparked further accusations of abusive behavior and harassment from former dancers and parents of Anchorage dancers. Classical Ballet Academy. In interviews, parents and former dancers described Michelangelo Canale, 50, as a talented but intimidating ballet instructor who used his authority to engage in inappropriate behavior.

In interviews, ballet student Alex Icet has said she was drunk when Canale forced her into the back seat of her car after an opening reception for the annual ‘Nutcracker’. the company.

The Anchorage Daily News does not usually name victims of sexual assault, but Icet said she wanted to share her story publicly to encourage other women to come forward.

Canale did not return a phone call and text message seeking comment. A reporter visited the studio on Monday and was told he wasn’t there.

A volunteer, nonprofit board of directors oversees the ballet. In a telephone interview, board chairman Ed Barrington said he personally recommended Canale’s resignation. Due to the holidays, the board has not yet met to discuss what to do next, Barrington said.

“The board takes this very seriously,” Barrington said.

Barrington said on Tuesday the academy had obtained legal representation and was investigating complaints about Canale. An official statement will come before the end of the month, Barrington said.

The Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy, known as the Anchorage Ballet, has built a reputation as the city’s premier professional dance studio and has trained some of the state’s finest dancers. Canale founded it in 1997. Tax records from 2012 to 2014 show the organization operated with annual revenues of around $500,000, including money from government agencies.

The public allegation of sexual misconduct against Canale, a well-known figure in Anchorage’s arts community, has troubled the close-knit circle of dancers and performers. But more than a year ago, a group of parents warned the ballet council about Canale, according to interviews.

A “toxic culture”

Evan Budd was among five parents who gathered at a cafe in Anchorage in May 2016 to write a letter to the council. Budd and his wife pulled their teenage daughter out of the academy around the same time, he said, because long hours interfered with her schoolwork.

Budd said he was concerned about what he described as a ‘toxic culture’ preparing for ballet, although he said he was unaware of Canale’s inappropriate behavior towards his daughter .

In the letter, a copy of which was provided to the Daily News, the parents describe behavior ranging from bullying, “ranting” and body-shaming, to brutal physical treatment: grabbing a student’s face and “putting him in position” and slapping him. students repeatedly on the thighs. Parents say the behaviors have worsened since the fall of 2015.

The letter also described Canale as having “a habit of being near dressing rooms that are not his own during performances…in one case, an adult dancer had to physically prevent Michelangelo from entering or looking into a female lodge while others were changing.”

Canale’s behaviors “taken individually may seem simply odd. Viewed in totality, they demonstrate a rather concerning pattern,” the letter states.

Barrington said the board reviewed each of the allegations presented by the parents. He said the board had made internal recommendations to Canale about his behavior and changing the physical layout of the studio, though he declined to give further details. He said the board had not previously heard of any allegation as serious as that made by Icet, although he said he had now received numerous emails containing complaints about Canale.

“Apparently a lot of people had bad grievances with him,” Barrington said.

By August 2017, Canale’s behavior caused a number of dancers and teachers to leave the studio, said Allison Ackles, who was a staff member at the time and an alumnus of Anchorage Ballet.

A new dancer

Icet enrolled as a ballet student in August 2016. A medical assistant by profession, Icet said she was looking to exercise and thrive outside of work. She researched ballet studios online and signed up with Anchorage Ballet.

Canale took an interest in her early on, she said. He pushed and encouraged her as an instructor.

But Canale was making crude jokes and comments, she said. Once he showed her a box of cigars and made a suggestive comment. As she prepared to appear on her first show, “The Nutcracker,” she knew she didn’t want to be alone with him, she said. (Anchorage Ballet performed the second production of “The Nutcracker” at the Alaska Center for Performing Arts this year; the first was a larger traveling show that took place in November.)

At the reception following the opening performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 8, Icet said she had been drinking so much that she realized she was getting drunk and she had trouble forming words. She told Canale she was drunk, feeling dizzy and tired, she said. Once the reception was over, she went with Canale and a group of dancers to a bar in another part of town.

At the bar, Canale ordered a round of shots for the band and she drank more alcohol, she said. Then Canale offered to take her home with another adult dancer. Once in the car, the woman initiated sexual contact with her, which he liked, she said. But Icet said the encounter then crossed a line when Canale began performing oral sex on him without his consent. When it happened, Icet said, she froze. The other woman noticed Icet’s reaction and twice told him to stop, at which point he did. They then drove Icet to her house and dropped her off.

Icet danced in the final performances of “The Nutcracker” but said she pulled out of the ballet the following Tuesday.

Two days later, last Thursday, Icet reported the incident to police, a police department spokeswoman confirmed. Spokeswoman Nora Morse said the case had been assigned to the department’s Special Victims Unit and police were investigating the allegations.

Messages to the other dancer, who Icet said was in the car with her and Canale, were not returned.

After speaking to police, Icet also posted an account of what happened on Facebook. She said she made the post public after others urged her to allow it to be shared. As of Tuesday, it had been shared more than 240 times. Some members of the dance community have stepped in to accuse Canale of inappropriate behavior.

At first she was hesitant to come forward, Icet said, but changed her mind after hearing from other dancers and their experiences with Canale.

rapid fallout

Canale began his dancing career while attending Juilliard, New York’s prestigious arts institute, according to an online profile of him on a ballet resource website.

He then danced professionally with the New Orleans Ballet. In the profile, Canale said he moved to Anchorage to teach ballet to figure skaters before starting the Anchorage Ballet.

For many years, Canale and his wife, a former principal dancer with Anchorage Ballet, ran the school.

In April 2016 — a month before the ballet parent group was to meet to write the letter — the couple filed for divorce, according to court records. After that, the atmosphere at the studio seemed to change, Barrington and others involved with the organization said. Budd and the other parents quickly got together to write the letter complaining about Canale, and some pulled their daughters out of school.

Last weekend, when Icet posted his accusations on social media, the fallout came quickly.

April Garza’s 13-year-old daughter has been attending school for seven years. Garza said in an interview that she has had no negative experiences with Canale, although she has noticed a lot of staff turnover recently.

After reading Icet’s Facebook account, Garza said she planned to move her daughter to another school. In comments online, other parents echoed Garza’s decision.

Barrington, whose son trained at Anchorage Ballet years ago, said the board plans to formally address the issue in the coming weeks. He said there was strong interest in keeping the studio alive even though Canale was not part of it.

“We all love ballet,” Barrington said. “We just don’t want to see the ballet suffer because of this gentleman’s problems.”

In a public alert Wednesday morning, Anchorage police asked anyone who believes they are a victim of Canale, or knows someone else who may be, to call their dispatch line and ask to speak to a sexual assault detective (907-786-8900, press “0”).