APD investigates Anchorage Ballet founder for accusation of sex assault
Anchorage Police confirmed Monday that they are actively investigating the founder and artistic director of Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy, 50-year-old Michelangelo Canale.
In an email, police spokesperson Nora Morse wrote, “APD has received a report of sexual assault regarding Mr. Canale. It was reported on the 14th but the alleged event was the 8th. The case has been assigned to the Special Victims Unit.”
At least two, now-former, students of ACBA are coming forward with claims of sexual misconduct. Alex Icet, 27, and Allison Ackles, 19, met with KTVA Monday to detail what they believe is systematic sexual misconduct in an environment that has permitted the behavior to go on for years.
Icet first broke her silence in a Facebook post dated Dec. 14, accusing Canale of sexually assaulting her on the night of Friday, Dec. 8, following the first of two presentations of The Nutcracker.
She said Monday it happened after the reception and she and a group of dancers had been drinking downtown. Icet says she was intoxicated and accepted a ride home from Canale and a female dancer she trusted.
“I don't know how my tights got off again. I don't know that. I know he started performing oral sex on me without my consent,” she explained, saying her memory of the night is somewhat out of order.
“The woman in the car took notice of my discomfort. She asked me if I was okay, I told her no -- I told her I wanted it to stop, and she told him to stop and he kept going, so she told him to stop again and he stopped in a huff,” said Icet.
Icet says she danced in The Nutcracker the following night, then days later she resigned from the academy.
Prior to the alleged assault, Icet says there were red flags, but nothing one would report to the police.
“There are times when he would correct you and just keep his hand on you for a bit longer than what was necessary, and again, you're just like, ‘Am I reading too far into this?’
Icet says the environment in which she spent time with Canale meant unwanted advances happened in a gray area.
“This is someone you pay to correct your body, you're used to them touching you,” she explained.
She says since publicly sharing her story, others have approached her with their own stories about Canale’s sexual misconduct.
Ackles says after more than a decade of involvement with Canale as a student and then another two as an instructor, she took her concerns to the organization's board of directors months ago, but nothing was done, so she resigned.
“The first time he ever said something overtly sexual to me was, I was probably 17. He told me that my intelligence was super sexy and he wished I was older so he could take me on a date,” said Ackles.
She also described an encounter in which she says Canale partially exposed himself to her while they were talking about tattoos.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I don't want to see that,’ and he was like ‘Oh no no, wait come here,’ and he pulls his pants down and he has a scorpion right here and I saw pubic hair and the base of his penis,” said Ackles, saying she was 17 at the time.
She says in her time at the Academy, she's witnessed him speak to and touch minors in a sexually inappropriate way.
“He makes himself seem untouchable, so no one has come forward,” said Ackles.
Both women told KTVA they’re sharing their stories to warn others and parents.
“He works very closely with children. Every single day,” said Ackles.
“The reason people like this get away is because people are silent and people hide under the shame that they feel, and that shame does not belong to the victims, the people it happens to, it belongs to the perpetrators and I think they should wear it in public,” said Icet.
Beyond serious accusations of sexual misconduct, both Ackles and Icet addressed a concerning culture within the Academy they describe as "toxic."
Ackles described a day when Michelangelo brought a scale into class and made each student weigh in, excusing anyone from the class who didn't fall under his preferred maximum weight, including Ackles.
She also told KTVA he advised her to eat "a beet for breakfast, a carrot for lunch, and an apple for dinner," and nothing more.
A letter provided to KTVA that was reportedly presented to the Anchorage Ballet Board on behalf of several parents back in 2016 corroborates those concerns.
The letter states, "[Michelangelo] has publicly humiliated many dancers. He has publicly engaged in body shaming of many dancers. He has dismissed dancers from class "because of your face." He makes his remarks personal and demeaning."
The letter outlined concerns of alcohol abuse, potential misuse of funds, and unsupervised private lessons saying, "We ask the board to consider carefully whether Michelangelo is the best fit for Anchorage Ballet. His manipulative behavior, bullying of the dancers and pitting them against each other and questionable motives for insisting some dancers have private lessons with him (without anyone allowed to observe) should not be overlooked or swept under the rug."
The Anchorage Ballet board president Edward Barrington said in an email to KTVA Monday:
“The board is aware of these shocking allegations and is taking action in the regard. I am in Texas at this time and another board member is in Panama. We are in the process of securing legal representation and will issue a formal statement as soon as possible. The ballet, staff and students is our primary focus and concern and we ask all involved for their patience in this matter.”
Barrington said the academy would comment further on the case in a statement after Christmas next week.
Wednesday, APD released a call for victims to come forward in a Nixle alert:
"Anyone who believes they are either a victim or has knowledge of someone else who may be, is requested to call Police Dispatch and ask to speak with a Sexual Assault Detective (786-8900, press “0”)."
The nonprofit’s website states:
“The Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy is funded in part by the Municipality of Anchorage, as appropriated by the Assembly and Arts Advisory Commission, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Garold Gardner Scholarship Foundation, the Manning Family Foundation, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Atwood Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.”
When asked about Municipality financial support, a spokesperson in the Mayor’s Office said that arts grants are extremely competitive, and that they fund programs, not specific individuals. She deferred any other questions to APD.
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