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Binet Allegations

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As the shoes continue to drop, my thoughts and empathy are with the dancers and others who have been/will be most impacted, in the short and long term. I hope that this spurs serious changes in company/board management and personnel policies. Unfortunately, good governance (via checks and balances) is often an afterthought in arts/non-profit orgs where wealthy individuals end up with outsized influence.

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Frank is a self-described "satirical magazine," sometimes also called a "scandal sheet" or "gossip rag," so honestly, I don't know how much traction the piece will have.

The really serious allegation here is directed at the unnamed Board member accused of sexually harassing a dancer, and that deserves serious investigation. Sponsorship programs like Dancers First aren't unique to the National Ballet of Canada, but they have the potential to become very problematic.

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According to the article, the Toronto Star, a respected journalistic outlet, will be meeting with NBoC board-of-directors members and will investigate independently, so as I said, shoes will likely continue to drop. I didn't see Dancers First mentioned; this seems to be a board of directors/wealthy donor issue.

 

Edited by kylara7

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My point is simply that when you have sponsorship programs with minimum annual donations of $25,000 (so only the very wealthy need apply) and the program promises donors "highly personalized events and exclusive behind-the-scenes opportunities designed to connect [them] more closely to the professional and individual development of [their] sponsored dancer," the potential for something unpleasant happening is there. The company's other high-end donor programs also promise various forms of exclusive access, and most of the time I'm sure everything is above board, but a creepy geezer or unscrupulous cougar could certainly make the interaction nightmarish for a dancer.

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The issue is not that that such things might have happened; most of us *know* that they do, in many such situations. The issue is that when and if they happened, there appears to be no oversight/accountability or meaningful process in place to swiftly deal with the incident, \prevent it from happening again, and protect those to whom it happened.

If a principal dancer is receiving such treatment and can't get it to stop/has no recourse or backup to address it without fearing retaliation and if dancers/staff have gone anonymously to the press as a last resort, something is rotten. If a donor's/board member's family member is receiving special treatment, whose work and creations are we losing out on because they don't have an influential parent?

And if a principal is affected, others in more precarious positions down the chain probably are as well...that is the essence of the wave of disclosures happening across all industries.

It's a systemic issue. Thank goodness that it is being unearthed and examined, as uncomfortable and potentially disruptive as it might be; hopefully it leads to systemic change and better futures for artists (and other workers) everywhere.

 

Edited by kylara7

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Which budding choreographers are losing out because Guillaume Côté has an extremely wealthy patron/admirer in Emmanuelle Gattuso, who is willing to fork over huge amounts of money to fund his productions, $2,000,000 in the case of Le Petit Prince? If anyone is receiving commissions and funding completely disproportionate to actual choreographic ability, it's Côté. Is this situation not egregious because there is no family relationship?

6 hours ago, kylara7 said:

dancers/staff have gone anonymously to the press

The accusers are both "insiders" and "anonymous"? Perhaps this is simply sloppy wording on the part of the Frank writer, and the journalists approached are protecting the identity of their sources, but seriously, the criticisms of the Binets mentioned in the story are no different from those made by rank-and-file posters on this board, who need not be "insiders." Therefore I don't see anything especially sensational about the complaints.

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1) Are there, or should there, be rules in place, to prevent this, or any other abuse of power from happening again (a parent chairing a school board while their child attends, then transferring to the attached company when child graduates, hiring the child at that company and then securing further work for their child at another arts organization by joining their board)? 

2) What policies should be in place regarding sexual harrasment between leadership and employees?

 

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And how, exactly, are the issues of the Binets and accusations of sexual harassment related? If you look back at my first post, I did write that the accusations of sexual harassment are very serious and that maybe the company should re-think the ways it has dancers interact with wealthy patrons to prevent "nightmarish"--that was my characterization--situations.

So I am not deflecting. I am, however, at a loss, to understand the hostility directed from some quarters, including those cited in the article, at Robert Binet, because, frankly, the National Ballet of Canada has at various times fostered less talented choreographers. (For clarity, I have never suggested that Kudelka is untalented. I've been watching his works for more than 30 years. He has a genuine gift for movement invention. But I find his choreography gimmicky and sometimes tacky. I do think Côté is a rather untalented choreographer. And, for full disclosure, I don't much care for him as a dancer either.)

Just because Binet's father is an influential businessman doesn't mean his son is untalented. Perhaps it wasn't David Binet who forced himself on the National Ballet of Canada's Board in order to promote his son's choreographic ambitions. Perhaps it was the company which recruited him in the hopes of getting access to some of his employers' fortune. In any case, Binet Sr. is no longer president of the company's board, so it's a moot point, and that particular part of the Frank story is old news. I don't quite understand why his detractors aren't mollified and find their continued smears against Robert Binet unseemly. (Again, for the record, I don't know Robert Binet. I was introduced once to his parents by a company dancer, who didn't seem to be seething with resentment at their presence. My interaction with the Binets didn't extend past "How do you do?" I don't roll in those circles.)

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Back to the possible need for structural/policy changes and building on JumpFrog's questions, personnel/governance policies only emerged in corporations and newsrooms and other workplaces after incidents and investigations pointed out their absence or lack of enforcement. It would be nice if people would simply behave well at work (and everywhere else in society), but we know that human behaviour needs guardrails.

However, as we've seen in recent weeks, even existing policies need to be revisited and updated periodically because simply HAVING policies or procedures is not sufficient, especially if/when the reporting chain contains the problematic figure, e.g., when the head of the ethics committee to whom harassment/abuse should be reported is the person doing the harassment (as related recently by a female politician). Probably many of us have been in workplaces where a policy/protection technically exists, but has no "teeth", as it were, and there are often individuals who will exploit that. I hope we get to the point where those revisions are part of an ongoing process and don't require individuals to take on the burden and pressure of going public and possibly risking their careers and future prospects.



 

Edited by kylara7

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Thank you for your intelligent thoughts kylara7. This is a subject that I am very interested in (nerd alert, lol) and I think that the entire movement of people calling out injustice happening right now is going to be encouraging for the kind of systemic change we all agree is needed at Canada’s National Ballet. I think you bring up some excellent points.
One part of this I think is interesting is that the arts (or maybe it’s non-profits I’m not sure) seem to be very late to the party on this.
It seems like all other fields have internal policy to prevent fraud, corruption, nepotism, conflict of interest, etc. But it doesn’t appear they have that here. At least they don’t have it under Karen Kain. And if they do it’s not being enforced. The Binet/Fischer situation would never be allowed in any other field. 
So maybe the arts have allowed the inherent subjectivity of what they do to become a kind of an excuse for not having stricter rules. 
As in, no, sir, you may not write a check for one million dollars and get your son hired... or no - you may not run this department with your wife and then hire and promote your daughter. It’s funny to think of this in the context of a government office or science lab. It would be considered, at the very least, terribly bad taste - and at the most, actually against the law.
So ultimately, the lack of any rules here was taken advantage of. 
I think everyone can agree that not having policies in place to protect employees from this kind of corruption is poor leadership. It reflects very badly on Karen Kain and her tenure of running the ship.

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There is another follow-up article in the current issue of Frank Magazine, but the electronic version is behind a paywall.

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On 1/25/2018 at 11:44 AM, kylara7 said:

There is another follow-up article in the current issue of Frank Magazine, but the electronic version is behind a paywall.

Could you give us a synopsis?

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I highly recommend that anyone who is interested get their own copy (hard copies in Toronto and Ottawa) or pay for electronic access. There is no proper substitute for a primary source.

As requested, here is a summary of the article's main points:

  • NBoC management has denied the allegations to the press ("nothing to see here") but is conducting an internal investigation as response to a call by one of the Canadian arts funding agencies tying continued funding to use of "best practices" in dealing with harassment issues.
  • There is concern because the internal investigation is being led by Cornell C. V. Wright, who is a friend and colleague of Binet Sr (both from the same law firm). [My note: Wright replaced Binet Sr. as chair of the NBoC Board of Directors when Binet Sr. stepped down last year].
  • A memo/meeting went out to the company to examine "existing policies/practices". The dancers noted that this was the first they'd heard of any such policies and if they did exist, they weren't being followed,
  • The article also restated the possible conflict of interest issues re: Binet Sr.'s financial influence and career influence with respect to the role of Binet, Jr. and also noted the optics of the Fischer situation.
  • The article also alleges that Karen Kain is mainly involved with patrons and is rather hands off with the company except to hold "fat talks" with individual dancers to tell them that they "need to be smaller".

     
Edited by kylara7
Punctuation/italics

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Re: the sexual harassment allegations that were mentioned in both articles:

" A wealthy Toronto patron pressured a leading male dancer with the NBOC into a sexual liaison. The victim has remained silent, out of fear of reprisals–given Mr. X’s powerful influence on Bay Street and with the company."

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It looks like the articles are just getting started. To release them in stages is both super smart for their viewership but also gives the feeling they have more where that came from. If the ballet company have people going to the press it suggests people are really angry and probably won't stop any time soon.

The lack of Kain actually directing makes sense Kylara as that would have give ample opportunity for people to get their own agendas into play relatively unnoticed and unpunished and the articles presentation of both the Binet situation and the Fischer situation side by side is particularly damning as it clarifies that it isnt all just coincidence as they hope all will believe but rather how they do business there. 

On the company website itself it shows all they have done since Binet Sr. resigned (and was replaced by his friend and colleague from Tory) is shift him to the Endowment Board. Do they not think that people research this? 

https://national.ballet.ca/Meet/Board-of-Directors

Something that will shock literally no one is that the upcoming mixed program is entirely sponsored by Thomson Reuters Deputy Chairman Binet Sr.

https://national.ballet.ca/Productions/2017-18-Season/Made-in-Canada

The good thing with this all happening as public as it is is that it puts pressure on leaders to right wrongs sooner rather than later. So far it appears Kain and co. are confident they will get away with this okay, but with the way other places like Soulpepper/Miramax are reorganizing (and because of the same issues) it appears the ballet leadership here gravely miscalculated.

If their actions since the publications started are any indication Kain probably has yet to realize what just what she has done.

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JumpFrog, I noticed that latest "coincidence", the Thomson Reuters sponsorship, that conveniently puts Binet Jr's work with two of Canada's most established choreographers. It really makes me sad and leaves me with a very bad feeling about the current NBoC. I won't be going to the Made in Canada program, much as I would love to see Emergence and The Four Seasons again.

I'm also dismayed that the latest article underscores what I had been noticing about the female dancers getting thinner and thinner and thinner to the point where they don't look well.

I predict that the Globe and Mail (owned by Binet Sr under the Woodbridge Company umbrella) is already teeing up a glowing review that will attempt to claim that Binet Jr is in the same league as Kudelka and Pite. No, just no, as far as I'm concerned.

The only program I was planning on seeing was the summer mixed program with the Justin Peck piece, but I'll be away during the whole run. This will be the first year since I have lived in TO that I won't attend a single performance. And my family used to have season subscriptions.

It's just bloody awful.
 

Edited by kylara7
Added clarification

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As for the "it's just coincidence" handwaving, I keep thinking about what a previous boss/mentor said, "Once is chance, twice is coincidence, but three is a pattern". I'm sure that we aren't the only ones who were connecting the dots before and ongoing, and I agree that once the leaks start, the whole story is going to come out sooner or later. :(

 

Edited by kylara7

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Binet’s works were well received at NYCB and SFB.  I fon’t think he is known south of the border as a hack.  

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I don't think folks are saying that Binet's bad (though I am not always excited by his work... in my view it has stood out because he's had wonderful dancers to work with). My take is that a lot of other aspiring choreographers would have done well with the opportunities he's received, and the dancers he's had the privilege to work with... and THAT'S the issue.  In fact, I've seen other student choreographers from NBS  present wonderful pieces at the school, but not end up with the opportunities young Binet has had.

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David Binet has been removed from the NBoC Endowment Foundation Board, or at least his name no longer appears on the list of board members that JumpFrog linked above.

 

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On 2/15/2018 at 9:55 AM, kylara7 said:

David Binet has been removed from the NBoC Endowment Foundation Board, or at least his name no longer appears on the list of board members that JumpFrog linked above.

 

According to Media at the National Ballet the website is correct. David Binet has been removed from the NBoC Endowment Foundation Board effective immediately. 

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According to yesterday's programme and the company website, David W. Binet is on the "Soaring Campaign Cabinet."

https://national.ballet.ca/Donate/Soaring/Leadership

The Goal of this Campaign is to raise $100 million dollars for the Ballet.

In addition, David W. Binet is listed as a member of the "Director's Circle" (donors of $25,000 or more), and the "Music Circle and Orchestra," which indicates donations specifically in support of the ballet's orchestra.

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Good find mom2 and i enjoyed reading your thoughts on the mixed too. It appears Karen Kain and Barry Hughson are moving Binet around in order to both keep his and his companies money while also keeping the public outcry at bay. I hadn't heard of either the Soaring Cabinet or Music Circle and Orchestra before so did some reading this afternoon. Of particular note in the Soaring Campaign link above is the promise of "New Work". This heading is seen under a photo of The Dreamers Ever Leave You (:icon8:) and paired with the following quote from Binet Jr.:

"I grew up wanting to be a part of this National Ballet and I'm honoured to be asked to contribute. I'm grateful for the company's commitment to my development and for the opportunity this allows me to take creative risks, which is extremely valuable as an artist." -Robert Binet, Choreographic Associate

Notably, included under "Soaring Achievements to Date" is the actual creation of Binet Jr.'s position, Choreographic Associate. Further, under the "Endowment" portion of the Soaring Campaign description is the following quote from Binet. Sr.:

"With a strong Endowment, the National Ballet represents an organization that is both innovative and stable, and a place where new ideas can flourish because they find the right talent and support. Artistic risks are taken within an environment of financial stability, both of which ensure a bright and prosperous future." -David Binet, Chair, Board of Directors

There are then a collection of quotes offered from a variety of presumably donors, each offering their own insight into how "extraordinary" everything is. However, it does not appear any of them actually serve on the Soaring Cabinet.

Those who do in fact serve on the cabinet are:

  • David W. Binet
  • Sandra and Jim Pitblado
  • Gail Appel
  • Judi Conacher
  • The Honourable Nicole Eaton (Senator)
  • Sandra Faire
  • Krista Kerr
  • Genevieve McKillon
  • Julie Medland
  • Jessica Ray
  • Gretchen Ross
  • Liam Sobey
  • Michele Symons

It really raises more questions than answers. Kylara/mom2, what are your thoughts?

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Posted (edited)

Thank you JumpFrog and mom2 for this information. I agree that it appears like the company keeps shuffling Binet Sr. around. There are likely requirements (legal ones) on reporting sources of funding, board membership, fundraising structures, etc. that keep this information public.

I also agree that a) the financial backing of Binet Sr. and his companies/professional networks is probably significant and buys influence that comes with many strings, i.e., "golden handcuffs", and that the installation of Binet Jr. is clearly questionable and explains the sub-par work we've been subjected to.

It strikes me that this onion has many layers, and there are likely more to come, sadly. As with other such situations I've witnessed in my personal/professional life, people eventually start connecting the dots, and if public relations handwaving and cover-ups are going on, it's 100 times worse when the details of the situation come to light. I have a continual bad feeling about this whole situation, and I am deeply disappointed with the company leadership.

Edited by kylara7

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