The Buzz, 1-22: Rebirth
Like the Phoenix, Martha Rises Again
By Darrah Carr
and Paul Ben-Itzak
NEW YORK -- They triumphed
during a protracted legal battle with Martha Graham's principal
named heir Ron Protas. They are moving into new studios on the site
of their old home on E. 63rd Street. They are embarking on their
first New York season in four years at the Joyce Theater. The artists
and staff of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance certainly
have a lot to celebrate. And last night they did just that, with
a jubilant preview performance and gala reception. The Joyce program
ranged from the subtle and sublime "Lamentation" to the playful
"Maple Leaf Rag," and served not only as a preview of the season,
but also as a review of the incredibly broad spectrum of Martha
Graham's choreographic vision.
Francis Mason, chairman
of the Graham board of trustees, issued an eloquent and charming
call for support to help "preserve these interesting dances, present
them to future generations, and create new work." His words brought
to mind the duty of legacy -- a legacy that belongs not just to
last night's performers or audience, but also to the broader Modern
Dance community. No matter if one thoroughly embraced Graham's technique
or deliberately spun far away from it, it would be hard to find
a dancer who could deny the influence of a woman whose work spanned
Alongside legacy is
family. Last night's performance gathered generations. Former Graham
dancers in the audience gave a heartfelt standing ovation to the
newest members of the company, who danced next to seasoned principals.
Catherine Lutton, who is enjoying her first season with the company,
noted, "As a younger dancer, working with people who have been teaching
me for the past two years makes this feel like a family. There's
a lot of generosity at Graham, especially when older dancers coach
younger ones in their roles." Jennifer Conley, who will be making
her debut in Graham's signature solo "Frontier" on Saturday, stated,
"Learning these dances is part of an oral tradition. Each link is
so important. I am thrilled to be part of the new generation of
this revered legacy."
Ms. Conley will have
plenty more to learn soon. Said Graham Center executive director
Marvin Preston: "I have charged (artistic directors) Christine Dakin
and Terese Capucilli with the responsibility to get all of the dances
that we have won, as well as those owned by others and those in
the public domain, into performance within a three to four year
period, with at least two people knowing each role in each dance."
ruling last August, Federal District Court Judge Miriam
Goldman Cedarbaum found that 45 of the 70 Graham ballets at issue
belonged outright to the center; ten in the public domain; and five
to individual commissioners. She determined that Protas held the
copyright to one dance, and that for an additional nine, neither
side had demonstrated clear copyright ownership.
"We are determined to
preserve what we have won," Preston told the Dance Insider earlier
this week. "In parallel, Janet Eilber has been charged with making
the Martha Graham Resources more accessible and beneficial to the
company, the school, and the outside world. Accordingly, she will
be setting about getting the videos moved to digital media, licensing
the dances and (facilitating) training required to outside organizations."
Graham fans around the
U.S. and around the world won't need to wait to 'go to the DVD';
while the details for the rest of the year are still being worked
out, Preston said, "We have numerous presenters interested in working
with us in the short and long term." A two-month domestic tour is
anticipated for the Fall, and the company expects to finish the
year with a tour of the premiere venues in several European capitals.
While booking engagements in the short term is challenging because
theaters are typically already booked up, Preston explained, "the
short term interest is real, and we're finding some creative ways
to get things started."
This schedule will redound
favorably for the Graham dancers. In October, the center entered
into an agreement with 27 dancers represented by the American Guild
of Musical Artists, guaranteeing 25 weeks of work over this calendar
year. "We hope to move our level of activity for the MGDC to 40
or more weeks next year -- and, frankly, to even more than that
thereafter," said Preston. "Our minimum guarantee under the AGMA
contract is not likely itself to be moved. but we have every intention
of increasing the number of weeks with or without a guarantee."
Just as important as
the re-entree of the Graham company to the performing stage is the
recovery of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. "The
school is just now reaching break-even so that it is no longer a
financial drain on us as it was in the past," said Preston. It was
reinstated last fall as a charter member and accredited member of
the National Association of Schools of Dance. Hardest hit during
the school's six-month suspension of activities were the foreign
students who flock to the Graham studios from all over the world
to study her technique, and need the affiliation with a school to
be able to stay in the U.S.. Earlier this month, the U.S. Immigration
& Naturalization Service reinstated the school's authority to issue
student visas for full-time foreign students.
....and now PBI would like to rave and rant a little, the following
representing his opinions and not necessarily those of DC or anyone
else on the staff of the Dance Insider.
Rave: Props for helping
make this dramatic return possible have to go to Linda Shelton,
Martin Wechsler, and the rest of the team at the Joyce Theater.
The Joyce reserved the space last Spring -- before the outcome of
the trial was certain. If Protas had won the rights to the dances
and denied the company permission to perform them, the Joyce would
have been left with two weeks to fill in a prime theater, with most
of the major companies already committed. I don't see a "percentage"
in this decision. Shelton, the Joyce executive director, and Wechsler,
its programming director, didn't testify at the trial, but I wouldn't
doubt that this quiet commitment of their theater spoke loudly and
helped sway the Court.
From a practical viewpoint,
making the Joyce available also made the season fiscally doable
for a company that, while emotionally and artistically holding its
spine upright (so to speak), is no doubt just regaining its footing
financially. The Joyce is a fraction of the cost of, say, City Center.
"The real economic difference between the two venues," Preston pointed
out, "is that the scale of the undertaking at the Joyce is much
smaller and accordingly the up front costs of making the productions
work well there are much lower. You risk less money (and there is
much less money to be made). The people at the Joyce have been and
continue to be very supportive of us and we feel that they are doing
a world of good by making the production of our performances at
their theater easy, affordable, and a truly pleasant experience."
Rant: Despite the court
decision, the New York Times continues to be dragged kicking and
screaming into acknowledging the legitimacy of the Martha Graham
Dance Company's claim to her legacy. Not being able to stop the
legal landslide in the company's favor, the Times is now engaging
in historical revisionism and otherwise diminishing the company
and center's accomplishment in securing its right to the work and
thus securing Graham's legacy.
Writing in Sunday's
edition, Times reporter Kathryn Shattuck refers to Protas as "Martha
Graham's sole heir." Well, no, not exactly. He was the principal
heir named in her
will, but the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance
was also named -- to replace Protas if he should die before Graham.
And we all know who the true heirs of Martha Graham are, and there
are many of them.
Discussing the company's
one-night only return to the stage last
Spring at City Center, the Times writes: "Last May 9,
the company -- or what was left of it, filled out by student dancers
-- performed formally for the first time since May 2000 in a benefit
at City Center."
Huh? By my head count,
the principal performers when the company took the stage last Spring
were the same as before it suspended operations in May 2000, and
the troupe was completed primarily not by "student dancers" but
by the equally dedicated, and professional, Martha Graham Ensemble.
I mean Shattuck, can't resist asking "Is this what Martha Graham
would have wanted?," thus joining the ranks of other non-dancers
like Ron Protas who would presume to have a clearer channel to Martha's
wishes than her dancers. As court documents and testimony affirmed,
for her company to continue to live and breathe her work is exactly
what Martha Graham would have wanted, and what she'll get tonight
at the Joyce Theater.
For a complete schedule
of the Joyce season, which runs through February 2, please click