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The Buzz, 3-28: Graham Grovels
Board Leaves Dancers to Beg for Money

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

So the board of directors of the Martha Graham Dance Company, which in its infinite wisdom last year fired as artistic directors the two people arguably most responsible for keeping the company together during the Ron Protas years and replaced them with a director who would be commuting from the other side of the United States, has now reduced its dancers to begging for money from journalists in order to make it to its 80th birthday and a series of celebrations planned in New York next month.

"I am writing you as an artist, a dancer, who believes that this country is in danger of losing one of the greatest treasures it possesses," begins the letter I received recently from a Graham principal dancer. "As we approach our 80th anniversary of the company," the letter goes on later, "we are facing extremely difficult financial times. One could argue that this is the 'make it or break it' time. I am personally asking you to help us in these crucial times." The help requested is financial.

Much of the letter is devoted to blaming the apparent financial crisis on the lawsuits brought by Protas as he tried to assert ownership of, variously, the Graham trademark, technique, and dances. He lost on most counts, with the Graham company retaining control of most of the dances, not counting ten that the Court deemed in the public domain.

That was in 2002, and since then, whenever there's been a financial crisis, the board blames the long-departed Protas or the lawsuits he launched against them. Never mind that the board over-shot its budget by creating a bloated bureacracy in the wake of the 2002 court victory. Nor the crass marketing campaign with which it launched its big New York comeback season. Nor again that it destroyed its credibility with much of the dance community last year when it fired artistic directors Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin who, as associate directors under Protas, were largely responsible for the company retaining some credibility during the decade after Martha Graham's death, and who were essential in holding the company together when the board suspended operations in 2000 and as operations remained on hold as the board fought it out with Protas in court. Never mind that the Capucilli-Dakin firings were apparently part of a cost-cutting plan which, to judge by the dancer's appeal I've just received, apparently didn't work. (Board chair Francis Mason has never explained in public why the board fired the two Graham legends.) No, it is all still the fault of the Evil Protas and the big bad ol' lawsuits, and it has now come to this: It is not enough that many of these artists suspended their careers while the parents fought over custody, they must now clean up after the mismanagement of the board and go begging door to door for money.

A dancer's job is to dance. It is the job of the board to leverage that talent to secure the financial support that allows the dancer to keep dancing -- and giving pleasure to the rest of us. It should not be left to dancers to go asking for money that their company's board has shown it doesn't know how to wisely manage.

 

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