Dancer and choreographer Uri Sands has stepped down as co-artistic director of TU Dance, the acclaimed Twin Cities company he helped found, amid allegations of sexual harassment of a former employee, according to a news release Tuesday.
His wife and co-founder, Toni Pierce-Sands, will continue to lead the organization as artistic director.
"We believe Mr. Sands' resignation will help TU Dance move forward in providing a safe and healthy environment for all," the news release said.
Sands, 45, and TU Dance vigorously deny all allegations, said Sara McGrane, the lawyer representing both.
McGrane said a lawsuit was served on a member of the company's board in October, alleging sexual misconduct by Sands involving a female employee between 2015 and 2017. The lawsuit also alleged negligent supervision of Sands by the company.
McGrane admitted a sexual relationship between Sands and the employee, but said he and TU Dance denied the "sexual misconduct" alleged in the lawsuit. Feeling the suit would be a distraction to the company, Sands offered his resignation Monday, McGrane said.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the woman — a former dancer with the company who is not named in the suit — said Sands "sexually exploited" her, and he characterized the alleged misconduct as "nonconsensual sexual intercourse."
McGrane also said that in 2017, TU Dance received an anonymous complaint involving Sands that resulted in the adoption of a sexual harassment policy by the company and a policy that Sands could not travel alone with female dancers. She said Sands was asked to engage in counseling and therapy, which he did.
TU Dance was founded in 2004 by Uri Sands (the "U" in "TU") and Toni Pierce-Sands (the "T"). Both made their mark with the New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one of the nation's leading troupes. They married in 2001.
In July 2005, they premiered their multicultural dance company to sold-out audiences at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. The Star Tribune named the couple its Artists of the Year that December, lauding them for "seamlessly melding African, modern, ballet and vernacular dance styles, underscored by a rhythmic musicality."
On the company's 10th anniversary in 2014, it received a $500,000 Knight Foundation grant to help it add programming, expand its funding base and help diversify the local dance scene. "What will we be in the next 10 years?" Pierce-Sands told the Star Tribune that year. "We'll be taking dance from St. Paul to the world."
In 2018 it collaborated with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on an evening-long work titled "Come Through," which has since toured to major venues across the nation, including the Hollywood Bowl and the Kennedy Center in Washington, and Brooklyn just three weeks ago.