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The Buzz, 6-1 (Headline corrected): Point of Crossing
Graham Debate: 'Inflammatory Writing' or Terminal Patient?

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider

Responding to a recent column in which I proposed dissolving the troubled Martha Graham Dance Company to concentrate on preserving and promulgating Graham's dances, Francis Mason, chairman of the Graham board, writes to complain of "inflammatory writing at long distance about an American treasure."

I stand by my column, and by its fidelity to the Dance Insider's mission of giving a voice to dancers, building the dance audience, and telling stories not told elsewhere.

I also take exception to Mr. Mason's re-casting my well-intentioned proposal and any implied criticism of the company's current administration -- in particular for firing Graham treasures Christine Dakin and Terese Capucilli, and replacing them with a commuting director who apparently disdains the studio and feels Graham's work needs to be explained -- as criticism of the "American treasure" itself. The Graham Center's current troubles -- its executive director LaRue Allen put the deficit at $4 million at the end of 2005 -- have been widely reported on; we have published Ms. Allen's view of them, and of the Capucilli-Dakin firings, in its entirety.... That the company's New York season (to date) has consisted of what was essentially a two-hour lecture-demonstration has been previously reported on here, as has been the fact that press kits handed out for the occasion included an invitation to something called "Modern Dance on the High Seas," a crossing on the Queen Mary 2 "with a voyage-long program offering a truly unique look into the life and work of dance pioneer Martha Graham and her acclaimed company." I invite Mr. Mason to share with our readers any touring plans that go beyond elaborate lec-dems and diversions for cruise ship passengers..... As well, commuting director Janet Eilber's conviction that this archetypal work must be explained and "contextualized" has been documented, most recently by Joan Acocella in the New Yorker.

Leaving aside the question of why it's appropriate to direct a dance company while residing mostly at a distance but not to criticize it, in the case of the Martha Graham Dance Company, how it's perceived from a distance is critical, if for no other reason than that dance companies rely on touring for income.

Mr. Mason also knows very well that the involvement of the Dance Insider in the Martha Graham story has been anything but distant. The DI was the only publication besides the New York Times -- which has far more resources at its disposal -- to provide daily coverage of the Graham Center's trials with former director Ron Protas, most of it by me, in New York. We made the decision to exceed our resources because of the conviction that if we had not done so, the perspective of the Graham Center -- and Mr. Mason -- would not have been fairly represented. I regret that Mr. Mason and his board betrayed the trust I and many others placed in them, principally by firing Capucilli and Dakin. I regret that his professed admiration of our publication is apparently conditioned on our not contradicting him. I repeat my invitation, already issued, to Ms. Allen to share with our readers what she calls the company's "good plan for working our way out of this."

I repeat that my sole motivation in my most recent column was to see the work of Martha Graham -- her greatest legacy to the world -- preserved. It breaks my heart to see the work offered as shipboard entertainment; that work created to dance literature is now being reduced -- essentially dumbed down -- by explanatory words; and that, absent a vigorous plan to promulgate the work -- without diverting precious resources to propping up a disabled dance troupe -- these masterpieces, this technique, may be relegated to the archives. Martha Graham -- whose work opens a vein into our collective blood memory -- deserves to live, as we deserve the enlightenment and deliverance of her work.

Mr. Mason calls my diagnosis and prescription 'inflammatory.' At this point, the maladies afflicting the Martha Graham Dance Company have moved beyond inflammations. In my opinion, the patient has terminal cancer; it's time to put it out of its misery to save its soul -- the work. If Mr. Mason and Ms. Allen have another solution -- one that doesn't involve delegating the job of begging for money to dancers -- let's hear it.

 

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