Turning points

The good-bye girl.

Ashley Tuttle's performance at the Metropolitan Opera House on July 2 was heartbreaking, and not just because she was portraying Juliet in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's version of Shakespeare's play. According to an impeccable company source, Tuttle, who joined American Ballet Theatre 17 years ago, was informed that her services were no longer needed—just a week and a half before the season ended. It was her farewell show; the dancers knew it, the orchestra knew it, and gradually, the audience knew it too. There was no official press announcement, but company spokesperson Kelly Ryan said, "We don't comment on personnel issues. We're hopeful that she'll return next year, and that's all we're going to say."

Lewis Ranieri, chairman of ABT's board, didn't respond to TONY's calls. Nor is Tuttle talking at the moment (her lawyers have advised her not to comment). On Monday, however, Tuttle's name was included in the lineup for ABT's fall City Center season, with no explanation given as of press time.

The dancer, who was hired during Mikhail Baryshnikov's reign and promoted to principal in 1997, may not have been ABT's flashiest specimen, but her clean technique and delicate musicality was both tasteful and elegant. Brian Reeder, a choreographer and former ABT dancer, considers Tuttle a "class act, who never sacrificed or jeopardized the language of the steps and their musical intention to do what too many dancers do—an extra balance or turn for extra applause." Maria Calegari, who coached Tuttle in ABT's recent performances of George Balanchine's Mozartiana, says, "I loved working with her. I found her to be very meticulous—she really gave everything she had to learning the piece."

A source close to the company, speaking under the condition of anonymity, says, "It's a mess. I think it's been very badly handled for someone who's given such long-term service." To dismiss a dancer of Tuttle's distinguished caliber with less than two weeks' notice is humiliating. It seems suspicious that Ethan Brown's retirement performance, originally scheduled for July 2, was moved to the next night at the last minute. Apparently, getting rid of one dancer while paying tribute to another would have made ABT's mess even more embarrassing.

But that change allowed the audience to focus on Tuttle's ravaged final performance; her transformation into Juliet was the rawest I've ever seen. She wept openly during the final act, and when she stabbed herself onstage, for the first time, it didn't feel like acting. During the curtain calls, when a gang of well-wishers stood in the first row and lined the aisles, throwing roses and shouting "Brava!," Tuttle lost her composure. ABT dancers David Hallberg, Ethan Stiefel and Marcelo Gomes, as well as John Selya, her Movin' Out costar, presented her with flowers and hugs. Even though people were clearly willing to stick around for more, Tuttle did something charming and typical of her—smiling through her tears, she flicked her hand up in a shy good-bye wave and disappeared behind the curtains. It was classy as hell.

Check out our past coverage of Ashley Tuttle:
Ashley Tuttle The former ABT principal reunites with Twyla Tharp.
Turning points The good-bye girl.

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