Manitoba

Royal Winnipeg Ballet denies prior knowledge of misconduct allegations

A former student of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's professional division disputes a finding that the RWB knew nothing about allegations of inappropriate photo shoots involving veteran instructor Bruce Monk until police started investigating in January.

Former student says then-boyfriend sent email after nude photo shoot with Bruce Monk

Royal Winnipeg Ballet denies prior knowledge of misconduct allegations

6 years ago
2:17
A former student of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's professional division disputes a finding that the RWB knew nothing about allegations of inappropriate photo shoots involving veteran instructor Bruce Monk until police started investigating in January. 2:17

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet says it knew nothing about the allegations of inappropriate photo shoots involving veteran instructor Bruce Monk until police started investigating them in January.

However, the RWB confirms it did receive an anonymous email in 2013 outlining allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving Monk.

"It had some information about something happening to students over 18 … it was from a concerned parent," executive director Jeff Herd said, adding that staff tried to follow up on the email — but there was no contact information and the original writer never responded to queries.
Alena Rieger was no longer a student at the RWB school and had just turned 18 - when Monk invited her to a photo shoot in his basement studio in Osborne Village. (Karen Pauls )

"If there was information we could follow upon at the time, absolutely, we would have. We investigated appropriately, including an interview with Mr. Monk," he said.

"We found nothing at the time, so we were surprised when there were allegations through the police service."

After the police investigation began in January, Maclean's magazine published stories in April with five former ballet dancers who went to police about nude photos allegedly taken in the 1980s and '90s.

Since then, other former dancers have come forward with similar allegations of experiences as recent as last year.

In an interview with CBC News, one of them said her ex-boyfriend sent an anonymous email to several people at the ballet more than a year ago about a July 2013 nude photo shoot she had participated in.

Alena Rieger expected her 2013 photo shoot with Bruce Monk would be like this one done in 2012. However, as it progressed, she ended up nude. (Bruce Monk, supplied by Alena Rieger)

"I believe he took the position of a parent and he wrote a letter just explaining concern that a shoot had happened and that based on the way Bruce Monk had gone about it and conditioned me to do this shoot, that he believed that there could be cases of minors involved — because I was just over 18," said Alena Rieger, now 20.

Rieger does not have a copy of the email and her former boyfriend did not want to speak to CBC News.

Rieger said she spoke with the RWB about that email several days after the initial Maclean's article was published in April. The RWB confirms that the conversation took place but wouldn't provide specifics, citing privacy.

The police investigation remains open, but no charges have been laid against Monk.

Police have said the case is complicated because child pornography wasn't defined in the Criminal Code until 1993 and charges can't be laid retroactively.

In Rieger's case, she was no longer a student at the RWB school and had recently turned 18 when, she said, Monk invited her to his studio in a basement in Osborne Village.
Alena Rieger says Bruce Monk asked her to remove her clothes during a photo shoot shortly after she turned 18. She was expecting a regular dance shoot, like this one in 2012. (Bruce Monk, supplied by Alena Rieger)

"As soon as I got there, it felt a bit uncomfortable, which was strange. I was taken aback by that feeling because I trusted him so much, but it was just an ominous sort of place," Rieger said.

"I started by doing a dance shoot and he then asked me to put on this mesh bug suit — it was quite mod. I put it on overtop of my ballet leotard, and then he told me that it was ruining the lines and could I slip a strap off and I said, 'Of course.'"

As the shoot progressed, Rieger said Monk asked her to put on a nude-colored body suit.

"Then he asked me to take off the top of the under body suit, and then eventually the top of the bug suit, and then just the bug suit, and eventually I was completely nude. He had just asked me to take things off and switch things — it was like 15 costume changes — and eventually I was nude, taking photos, and I had no idea how I got there or if I wanted this, if I felt uncomfortable. I didn't know. I couldn't make decisions, my mind was foggy," she recalled.

"All I wanted to do was impress him. I wanted him to ask me to do another shoot, or I wanted to impress the ballet and at that time he was my only association with it."

Several days after the photo shoot, Alena Rieger messaged Bruce Monk and asked him to delete the nude photos he had taken of her. (Alena Rieger)
Bruce Monk's reply to Alena Rieger's request (Alena Rieger)

Several days after the photo shoot, Rieger messaged Monk and asked him to delete the photos.

"I understand. Will do," Monk replied in texts Rieger provided to CBC News.

He concluded with this message: "Alena I really apologize, and thank you for telling me your thoughts, the memory card has been deleted and written over so hopefully we can both move on wiser, Truly Bruce."

Rieger tried to put the experience behind her until April, when she saw all the media coverage of other women alleging similar things.

That's when she filed her police report.

"The police told me that they're looking for people that are minors that this happened to recently. That's not me. It seems that everyone is one of those things. They are a minor from the '80s or '90s or they are an adult recently," she said.

Rieger knows people will criticize her for going to police, but she's adamant that there was an abuse of power.

"I would say that there are things that I could have consented to before I was 18 and there's things that I wouldn't be able to consent to now," she said.

Bruce Monk, a former instructor and photographer with the Winnipeg Ballet School, is being investigated by police. No charges have been laid. (CBC)
"The dividing line of 18 doesn't make much sense in a case like this where as soon as I was with him, I went back to my 11-year-old self. I went back to trusting him and hoping he had my best interests in mind," she added.

"So I understand that I consented in some way or another, but I think that he … to make this appropriate, to make this art, he has to make sure this is a collaboration between two adults and not someone abusing their power with an adult."

Monk could not be reached for a comment but in the past, he has called the allegations "ridiculous."

He and the ballet parted ways shortly after the police investigation came to light. And that's the message the RWB's Jeff Herd wants to stress.

"We feel it's appalling that people have had to go through this and I hope the police service is doing a very, very appropriate investigation," he said.

"We will not debate anything they feel or say. Our biggest concern is to make sure whatever has gone on, that moving forward our environment is secure and safe for our individuals, and we want to make sure all our processes are secure to prevent anything like this from happening."

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