The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of the most prominent dance companies in the US and an iconic institution in the world of Black performing arts, on Monday fired a senior artistic director amid allegations of sexual harassment.
Troy Powell, the 51-year-old artistic director of Ailey’s junior touring company and a teacher at The Ailey School in New York City, was dismissed following an investigation commissioned by the school to look into the misconduct claims, the organization said.
The investigation, which was sparked by social media posts, concluded that Powell had “engaged in inappropriate communications with adults enrolled in the School,” according to a statement released by the Ailey organization Monday evening.
“Because his conduct was inconsistent with the standards expected of Ailey’s staff, executive leadership concluded that Mr. Powell could not continue in his position with the organization, and he is no longer employed in any capacity,” the organization said. Powell had been placed on a leave of absence in June during the investigation, according to the statement.
Powell, who has been a key figure at Ailey for decades, did not respond to requests for comment late Monday.
Four former students at The Ailey School told CNN over the last two weeks that Powell had abused his position of power, including in ways that went beyond “inappropriate communications.” They alleged that Powell touched them inappropriately or made sexual overtures that included sending a student an “unwanted” photo.
Three of the students said that after they rebuffed Powell’s advances, they were cut from performances or rejected during auditions, which they believed to be a form of retaliation by Powell. The allegations against Powell that were detailed by the ex-dancers who spoke to CNN spanned from 2003 to 2011.
Two former dancers said they complained to administrators of The Ailey School about Powell’s conduct years ago, but he was allowed to remain in his position, traveling with the company and teaching classes. A spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about that allegation.
Powell, a high-profile dancer, choreographer and teacher at Ailey, started his training as a scholarship student at the school at age nine, according to his online biography on the company’s website, which was taken down this week.
A larger-than-life figure in the halls of the school’s glassy building near New York’s Columbus Circle, Powell performed around the world and taught at The Ailey School before taking over in 2012 as artistic director of Ailey II, the group’s junior touring company which is seen as a stepping-stone to the most prestigious dancing roles.
But behind the scenes, rumors about Powell’s behavior spread among the close-knit group of Ailey alumni who’ve interacted with him, dancers said.
Last month, those rumors erupted on social media: A TikTok video of two dancers with the caption “When you wanna be in Ailey 2 … But guys gotta sleep with Troy Powell” circulated widely among the school’s alumni in recent weeks. And several former students posted sometimes tearful social media videos of themselves detailing the harassment they faced from Powell.
Following that, an attorney working with Ailey’s general counsel retained by the school reached out to several of the dancers who had commented on the social media posts. Three of the dancers told CNN they had been interviewed by that attorney.
Powell’s dismissal was first reported by The New York Observer. His downfall represents the latest sexual harassment scandal to hit a leading US dance institution in recent years. Peter Martins, the artistic director at New York City Ballet, retired in 2018 amid allegations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse, which he denied, and Marcelo Gomes, a star dancer at the American Ballet Theater, resigned in 2017 after being accused of sexual misconduct. Gomes, who has danced with other groups since, has declined to comment about the allegation against him.
The Ailey company was launched in 1958, when it was difficult for many Black dancers to perform with mainstream dance groups. Its founder, choreographer and modern dance pioneer Alvin Ailey, used his experiences growing up in deeply segregated rural Texas to create breathtaking dances that incorporate the history and spirituality of Black America.
Before his death in 1989, Ailey grew the organization from a small ensemble to an empire that pulled in $48 million in revenue between July 2017 and June 2018, the most recent year for which its financial information is available. Ailey dancers have performed at the presidential inaugurations for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and the group was deemed a “vital American cultural ambassador to the world” in a 2008 Congressional resolution.