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The Buzz, 5-30: Deaths & Entrances
For Martha to Live, her Company must be Dissolved

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

It's time to face an uncomfortable reality: The Martha Graham Dance Company -- at 80 the oldest modern dance troupe in the world -- has more or less been cursed since its founder died 15 years ago. Instead of being able to devote 100 percent of their efforts, talent, and money to simply preserving Graham's work, the dancers, funders, and administrators that guard her legacy have seen their energies dissipated and distracted by legal battles, fratricidal struggles for control, and more. Under its current leadership, the company has been reduced to lecture demonstrations -- if we have to explain the work of Martha Graham, God help the rest of modern dance -- and, soon to come, the cruise ship circuit. Its artistic director cannot even be bothered to live on the same coast as her dancers, and disdains rehearsing them. The company stands on the brink of extinction and -- let's be honest -- there are people, including dancers, who have no idea who Martha Graham is. This is the reality.

We should take a hint from federal judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, who in 2002 awarded 10 of Graham's works to the public domain and, instead of trying to preserve the crippled entity known as the Martha Graham Dance Company, dissolve it. Efforts could then be concentrated on saving the Graham school (and on the concomitant mission of perpetuating the Graham technique in other studios, universities, and high schools) and on preserving and fortifying the Graham repertoire itself -- through its performance at dance companies that are more financially sound and by (capable) university dance departments.

Funders -- private and public -- who are now afraid to give any more money to an enterprise that could crumble at any moment could instead be approached to fund retraining (where necessary) of the current members of the Graham troupe as teachers, stagers, and notators; licensing fees for staging the work at other dance companies and universities; reinforcing the Graham School; a Graham archive; and, most important, a robust Graham Trust charged with notating, licensing and staging the work -- similar to the Balanchine Trust which has seen the Balanchine repertoire propagated around the world, independent of its mixed fate at the New York City Ballet. Legendary Graham dancers Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, ignobly fired by the Graham board last year, could be approached to direct this trust. In recognition of their long devotion (and suffering, while others debated their fate), funds could also be set to pay for transitional training for the current Graham dancers.

As for the Graham company's current artistic director, Janet Eilber, perhaps as part of her severance package the Graham board could send her on a long cruise where she can 'contextualize' Martha Graham to her heart's content, calling when needed on Richard Move for comic relief.

 

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