After at least one member of the Radio City Rockettes publicly voiced her "embarrassment" over being forced to perform at the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump, the troupe's owner on Friday appeared to back-pedal, saying participation is "voluntary."
"I usually don't use social media to make a political stand but I feel overwhelmed with emotion," performer Phoebe Pearl wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post on Thursday after the group's participation was announced.
"Finding out that it has been decided for us that Rockettes will be performing at the Presidential inauguration makes me feel embarrassed and disappointed," she continued. "The women I work with are intelligent and are full of love and the decision of performing for a man that stands for everything we're against is appalling. I am speaking for just myself but please know that after we found out this news, we have been performing with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts. #notmypresident."
At the same time, BroadwayWorld obtained and republished a letter written by a "high-ranking member" of the dancers' union, the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA) which stated that full-time performers were "obligated" to perform at Trump's January 20 inauguration.
"We have received an email from a Rockette expressing concern about getting 'involved in a dangerous political climate' but I must remind you that you are all employees, and as a company, [James Dolan, executive chairman of the Madison Square Garden Company] obviously wants the Rockettes to be represented at our country's Presidential inauguration, as they were in 2001 & 2005," it read. "Any talk of boycotting this event is invalid, I'm afraid."
"Everyone is entitled to her own political beliefs," the email continued, "but there is no room for this in the workplace."
Many took to Twitter to express support for the Pearl and the other Rockettes, and the hypocrisy of conservative outrage over the post.
The #Rockettes are forced to do their job, but pharmacists who don't want to give birth control, or bakers who don't want to serve to gays?
— Sari Gagnon (@ScariSariGagnon) December 23, 2016
The Rockettes have invoked the rarely used Kim Davis Loophole to negate doing work you don't feel is appropriate. #Rockettes
— Brendan J. Bartlett (@BJB_OOC) December 23, 2016
No artist should be forced upon threat of firing to perform for the most racist, misogynist prez in our lifetime. https://t.co/wlhsHIvWoC
— Lisa Bloom (@LisaBloom) December 23, 2016
The ensuing uproar prompted the Madison Square Garden Company to release a statement on Friday, distancing itself from the union's forceful language. "For a Rockette to be considered for an event, they must voluntarily sign up and are never told they have to perform at a particular event, including the inaugural," the group said. "It is always their choice. In fact, for the coming inauguration, we had more Rockettes request to participate than we have slots available."
Whether or not that is the case, the furor over the inauguration performance comes amid news that numerous artists—including Elton John, Celine Dion, Garth Brooks, and Andrea Bocelli—have declined to perform.
Variety reported Friday that "Trump's inauguration committee has been struggling to book talent for the event in the last few months, because so many artists publicly supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign"—a predicament that may have prompted this Thursday tweet from the president-elect:
The so-called "A" list celebrities are all wanting tixs to the inauguration, but look what they did for Hillary, NOTHING. I want the PEOPLE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2016
As Rolling Stone's Steve Knopper reported Friday, even conservative acts are steering clear. "I do know some of the very conservative [artists] have no desire to do it. ... [They] just don't want to be involved in the circus—it's a media circus, and not necessarily in a good way," Ken Levitan, a "top" music manager who represents both liberal and conservative artists, told Knopper.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is performing at the inauguration alongside "America's Got Talent" finalist Jackie Evancho, is also facing resistance.
More than 7,000 "members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" (LDS) have signed onto a Change.org petition calling on the choir to cancel its participation.
"[A]n official LDS organization performing at a presidential inauguration gives the perception that the LDS church and its diverse 15+ million members worldwide support an incoming president's agenda, values, and behaviors," it states, which includes "sexist, racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic behavior that does not align with the principles and teachings" of the church.