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Buzz, 5-16: Canticle for Innocent Artistic Directors
Graham Chronicles: The Banished Mothers & the Absentee Parent
"At base this seems
to have been a power struggle, which we did not know was being fought.
We were too busy working, and we have lost."
-- Christine Dakin &
Terese Capucilli, former artistic directors of the Martha Graham
Dance Company, in ArtsCure.
"Janet... is in New
York at least once a month."
-- LaRue Allen, executive
director, Martha Graham Center, on current artistic director Janet
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
For nearly a year now,
we have been waiting for Francis Mason, chairman of the board of
directors of the Martha Graham Center, to explain to the world why
the board fired
the legendary Graham dancers Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin
as artistic directors and replaced them with a director, Janet Eilber,
who would not even commit to living in the same town as her dancers.
(Initially, the board tried to spin the firing as an 'elevation,'
a claim quickly torpedoed
by Capucilli and Dakin.) Now we finally have a response from LaRue
Allen, executive director of the Martha Graham Center. Her statement
below is followed by a response from Capucilli and Dakin, and one
LaRue Allen states:
"When it became clear
that the center was likely to emerge from its legal difficulties,
it adopted a business plan with the goal of rebuilding the organization.
The plan was to invest money in the artistic product, assuming that
presenters and sponsors would be attracted to the Graham product
in its full manifestation and that this, in turn, would lead to
profitability. Briefly stated, income did not keep pace with expenses.
The center self-audited its finances post the 2005 City Center season,
at which point the deficit had grown to $5 million. The Center had
tapped out all sources of loans and had to reconsider the plan.
Marvin Preston called a senior artistic and administrative staff
retreat two weeks after the season. Under the leadership of facilitator
Fred Harmond, the group developed a new method of operations and
a new organizational model. Among the changes the group unanimously
agreed upon (and there were many) was the consolidation of the artistic
leadership. Where there had been four autonomous artistic directors,
the staff recommended that there be one. The staff did not make
a recommendation about who that person should be.
"It should be noted
that to the outside world the two artistic directors of the Martha
Graham Dance Company often appeared to be the "real" artistic leadership,
since the company is the most visible of our various departments,
but within the center and consistent with the board's understanding
of the structure, they were equal partners with the directors of
the school and Martha Graham Resources. I have read that Christine
Dakin has said that she went into the retreat believing that our
task was to address an acute shortfall through a six-month plan.
In fact this was our intention going into the meeting but, once
in retreat, the facilitator made it very clear that our situation
was dire and that only drastic and fundamental reorganization coupled
with long-tern discipline and a creative approach to operations
could save the organization. Both dance company artistic directors
participated fully and honestly in the discussion, even though they
found Mr. Harmond's assessment hard to come to terms with.
"All staff participants
agreed to forward the new plan to the board but, a couple of days
later, Christine and Terese had second thoughts. They proposed that
more modest, across the board cuts be made, but that the structure
remain essentially the same. Both ideas were presented to the board
at their next meeting. Everyone had the opportunity to explain his
preferred plan. In closed session, the board voted to retain all
who had served in positions of artistic leadership -- no one was
to be fired -- but they also decided to appoint one artistic director,
Janet Eilber, to lead the organization artistically. Since I was
not present when the vote took place, I can't tell you anything
you haven't already heard about the decision. I will say that in
my personal opinion, it was evident that Christine and Terese had
a difficult time understanding the degree to which we would have
to change our operations in order to recover financially.
"Many attempts were
made, by me and others, to try to communicate with Christine and
Terese about redefining their role. They met with two representatives
of the board, among other things. In the short term, they were asked
to direct and to perform in a new program being developed for Jacob's
Pillow. Everyone clearly understood how important they had been
to the company's artistic recovery. Emotions run high at times such
as these and they were unable to participate or to even return any
of my many phone calls and e-mails. I fully understand; we all regret
the present estrangement and hope that things can change some day.
"Janet does spend much
of her time in California where she and her husband still have one
daughter living at home. She is in New York at least once a month
and meets up with the company at important touring sites. She plans
to be with them in Germany and in Greece this summer. We all wish
she were with us more; we know life would be easier if she were,
and she will be in the future. That said, it is possible to make
too much of her California residence. As we both know, it is not
at all unusual for a senior artistic director to spend less time
in the studio than say a choreographer-director who is building
a new company. In my final years at Trisha Brown, it was not unusual
for Trisha to spend long months in Europe, perhaps working on an
opera project, while the company rehearsed in NY or toured. The
dancers had difficulty with this at first but, ultimately, it worked
out with assistance from a good rehearsal director. Janet wants
to work on her vision for the company and the implications the vision
holds for the field at large. Janet cares deeply about the dancers
but she is not and does not want to be a rehearsal director. Our
company has a weakness in this area at the moment and we are working
on it. Janet needs a partner in the studio who can match her capabilities
in long-term planning and vision building. It's in the works.
"It is nearly impossible
for anyone to understand how hard the financial situation has been.
Sure, all dance companies have hard times and, after more than 35
years toiling away in the field, no one understands this more than
I. Still, I have never seen anything like this and until now couldn't
comprehend how a company could continue under such pressure. It
is simply the lack of money that is impeding our progress since
we cannot hire either administrative or artistic staff. But we have
made it through the worst and we have a good plan for working our
way out of this. More about that later, if you are interested."
We forwarded the above to Christine Dakin and Terese Capucilli and
requested a response. "Isn't it sad that what we did to bring back
Martha's work and the company's reputation has been dismantled and
that the Graham Center has to re-write history and defame us to
explain their actions?" they commented. "However, as we have always
said, the important thing is how Martha's great work is being seen
now and how it is produced." Regarding the details of their firing,
they referred us to the following statement, originally issued to
Eri Misaki of ArtsCure last fall:
"In the organization
of the Martha Graham Center, the artistic directors were supervised
by and reported to Marvin Preston, the (then) executive director.
Without his imagination, leadership, and incredible diligence it
would have been impossible for the center to win the complicated
legal battles to regain control of Martha's work. His lack of any
experience with the performing arts was actually an asset. He was
able to see outside the narrow limits of conventional wisdom.
"Mr. Preston's business
plan for the center was based on his belief that to be sustainable
we had to be operating at a level that required a budget far in
excess of what we had this past (2005) May. His plan was for us
to grow even more than we had. While we agreed that it was necessary
to make investments in the artistic quality, our experience led
us always to search for the least expensive and most efficient means
to the most glorious result on stage.
"In March of (2005),
Mr. Preston assured the board of trustees that 2005 would be a 'break-even'
year. But in May the center's annual strategic planning meeting
was reorganized to develop an 'Emergency Recovery Plan' to find
$1 million in cuts from the budget for the rest of the year, so
that expenses would match income. A plan was proposed to make cuts
and reorganize the center. The company was to cut $800,000 in costs,
including firing dancers and staff. We met with the then general
manager of the company to try and implement the plan, and it became
clear it would irremediably damage the future of the company. We
created alternatives for financial and operational cuts that would
achieve substantially the same savings but would have avoided the
gutting of the company's already overtaxed staff and maintained
the critical continuity we had worked so hard to regain. We met
with Mr. Preston and also tried to explain that central to any 'Recovery'
was addressing the administrative problems of the Center.
"With so much at stake,
we were surprised that Mr. Preston, Ms. Eilber, and LaRue Allen,
the newly hired director of development, asserted that their plan
was agreed on and could not be changed, and that the board would
not be satisfied with less than a dramatic restructuring. There
was no discussion of our proposal. The board's discussion was held
in closed session. We were not invited to discuss our objections
or present our alternatives. We have every indication that the board
was not even made aware of the danger to the company that we saw.
We do know now that in previous meetings they had been told damaging
and untrue things about our work.
"The following day Mr.
Preston announced the board's decision: to 'elevate' us to Artistic
Directors Laureate, and make Ms. Eilber the Artistic Director of
the entire center. What had been presented as an emergency meeting
to deal with a financial crisis became a change in the company's
philosophy and artistic direction.
"Clearly, no thought
had been given to the practical implications of this move. No transition
had been planned. No strategy had been formed to mitigate the tremendous
break in continuity, which is already damaging the carefully nurtured
relationships with the outside world, or to minimize the human damage
to the collaborators within the company and center. The title 'Laureate'
was not defined. Mr. Preston only said that Janet would be in touch
with us to suggest possible projects we might in the future be involved
"The following week
Ms. Eilber made us each an offer to rehearse the company in one
dance and to perform a couple of nights at the upcoming engagements
at Bard and Jacob's Pillow. We had obviously been deeply involved
in the planning for these performances and it would seem odd if
we were not there. Ironically, given the grim financial situation,
we were offered more money than we would have made as artistic directors
and performers, for a fraction of the work.
"We were troubled by
Ms. Eilber's announcement that her management style would delegate
the work in the studio and on the stage. Much had already been changed;
four of the dancers had been fired, and the staff at the center
was in chaos, as no one knew who would be next. In the aftermath
of this incredibly painful event, after 30 years of Martha's work
and the honor and chance to bring it back to life, we were seeing
the company dismantled. After much agony we decided that we could
not work under those conditions at that time.
"Since that one offer,
we have had no others.
"Although we frequently
requested it, there was no artistic director on the board. We trusted
the board and Mr. Preston to stand behind us as we struggled to
start up the company. If they had had any problems with our direction,
we trusted them to address us openly and honestly. We had no hint
that they were displeased with us, but had had only accolades for
our work. Knowing after the fact that they had been told untruths
about us, we wanted to defend ourselves. We have come to know that
there were charges of artistic inefficiency and financial irresponsibility,
even though we provided the center with accurate projections of
our costs and understood that the board had approved them.
"In our letter to the
board we wrote: "The company, while producing great art, has focused
on productivity improvements rather than adding staff. The staff
that we were using to create 73 performances in 32 cities in 2005
was smaller than the staff we used for 24 performances in 12 cities
in 2004. There were fewer rehearsal weeks this year to prepare for
eight tours than for only three tours last year. It is regrettable
that we do not have an accounting system that can adequately capture
the extent of many other savings. The size of the roster of dancers
has been controlled to expose us to the least financial risk as
regards the union contracts, with care to remain competitive in
the touring arena yet assure maximum quality and impact and maintenance
of dancer resources for the New York seasons.
"We said we understood
that the board had every right to choose the artistic direction
for the company. We felt, however, that after all our years with
and for the company we were owed an explanation for their action.
We felt we were owed an opportunity to answer false charges. Most
importantly, we felt we were owed the opportunity to explain why
we thought their action was devastating for the work that we have
devoted our lives to.
"There has been no response.
"Subsequent events have
born out our worst fears. The chaos continues. The financial situation
remains grim. We are among the artists and other vendors owed debts
the center has not met. The dismantling of the company continues.
Several dancers have announced that they will leave the company.
We have heard from agents and presenters who have shared with us
great concern over this change.
"At base this seems
to have been a power struggle, which we did not know was being fought.
We were too busy working, and we have lost. It is our sorrow that
it will not be our vision that will lead the company in the future.
We are now taking steps to begin a new kind of life for ourselves.
Martha is in our blood, whatever we do, and we will always share
that with Martha's audiences. We wait to see if we can continue
to be a part of the Company."
My simple response to Allen's explanation and Dakin and Capucilli's
statement: You tell me, dance insider: Why on Earth would a board
of directors in its right senses want to replace two obviously devoted
women like these two with a dilettante who disdains the dance studio,
who apparently is more interested in explaining the work to audiences
than teaching it to dancers? (Eilber recently told the New Yorker's
Joan Acocella she wants to "contextualize" Martha.) You
wouldn't delegate parenting; how can you delegate directing a dance
PS: Eilber apparently
prefers to delegate to dancers the job of begging
for money to get the company out of its current financial mess.
PS 2: The Graham director
du jour's 'vision' so far seems to consist of trying to book the
company on cruise ships. Now that's what I call out at sea.