Rape Case Against Revered Bay Area Dance Coach Moves Forward

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Viktor Kabaniaev, pictured in a still from from the 2012 dance documentary "First Position." He was arrested in January at his San Mateo County home under suspicion of 16 counts of sexual assault against minors, involving two former ballet students. (Courtesy Bess Kargman)

The case against a renowned Bay Area ballet coach accused of sexually assaulting at least two of his young students is moving forward after a Contra Costa County judge ruled on Friday that there is sufficient evidence for Viktor Kabaniaev to face trial.

Kabaniaev was arrested in January at his home in San Mateo County under suspicion of 16 counts of sexual assault against minors. He was 54 at the time of his arrest.

At the preliminary hearing Friday morning in Martinez, Judge Nancy Stark heard evidence from Detective Gabe Mauro of the Walnut Creek Police Department. Mauro testified that one of Kabaniaev's former students called police late last year to report alleged assaults from over a decade ago.

The former ballet student accused the dance coach of repeatedly raping and molesting her from 2000 to 2003. She was 12 years old when she alleged he first assaulted her.

Evidence in the case includes a conversation between the woman and Kabaniaev in which "he was not aware he was being recorded," Deputy District Attorney Devon Bell said.

Deputy District Attorney Devon Bell speaks to reporters outside the Contra Costa County Courthouse shortly after a preliminary hearing in the case against dance coach Viktor Kabaniaev on Oct. 5, 2018.
Deputy District Attorney Devon Bell speaks to reporters outside the Contra Costa County Courthouse shortly after a preliminary hearing in the case against dance coach Viktor Kabaniaev on Oct. 5, 2018. (Chloe Veltman/KQED)

A few weeks later, another former student — former ballet dancer Miko Fogarty — came forward alleging Kabaniaev touched her inappropriately when she was 13. That was reported as a one-time incident.

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The judge found that there was sufficient evidence to support all the counts against Kabaniaev and ordered the case to proceed to trial.

“There’s a very low standard in these preliminary hearings,” Kabaniaev's lawyer Kenneth Wine said after Friday's hearing. "We intend to defend him vigorously.”

Bell said investigation in the case is ongoing.

“Based on our investigation so far, we do think there [are] more victims who might not feel ready or willing to come forward at this time,” she said. “And we really hope they do for their own healing.”

The prosecution and defense could still strike a plea deal. If not, the case could take up to a year to reach trial, Bell said.

Kabaniaev was long held in high regard by the dance community as a top-tier coach. He helped to launch the careers of several high-profile dancers. Many of his former students and their parents, as well as family members and colleagues have written letters of support in his defense.

The coach has been in jail since January. Bail was originally set at more than $10 million, and then completely denied.

Kabaniaev faces up to a life sentence if found guilty.