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The Buzz, 8-24: All the News....
... And More Graham Scoops

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider

Blind Spot at the Gray Lady

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Last Wednesday at about 5 p.m. New York time, one of the best dance publicists in the business, Martha Thomases of General Strategic Marketing, sent out a press release via e-mail announcing the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit's ruling essentially affirming a 2002 District Court decision awarding the rights to 45 of 70 extant ballets by Martha Graham to the Center, School, and Company which bear her name and whose valiant dancers had carried on her tradition despite almost constant organizational turmoil or at least uncertainty since Graham's death in 1991. As reported here Friday, the Appeals Court awarded one ballet, "Acrobats of God," to Graham's legal heir Ron Protas, and threw the fate of nine additional ballets into limbo for the moment, asking the District Court judge, Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, to revisit ownership and copyright issues surrounding them. We reported this news on Friday. I don't brag about this, but I point it out by way of highlighting that if the New York Times has not reported the news with equal timeliness as of today, Tuesday, it's fair to say that the Gray Lady dons a blindfold when it comes to Martha Graham, actively choosing to suppress news it doesn't think is fit for its readers to see.

To understand why the Times would prefer that news of the Appeals Court decision -- and its ramifications -- not get out, one need only look at the crux of its findings, as we analyzed them in our report last week: In awarding 45 of Graham's ballets to the Graham Center, Cedarbaum endorsed the Center's argument that ballets Graham created while its full-time employee constituted work-for-hire and thus were owned by the employer, and not Graham's to leave to Protas. (In asking Cedarbaum to revisit the fate of seven dances created while Graham was the Center's employee, the Appeals Court was not rejecting the 'work-for-hire' principle, just pointing out that when these ballets were created, Graham was not a full-time employee of the Center and her duties did not include choreographing.) Saddled with a client who inspires little sympathy in the dance world, Protas's lawyer, Judd Burstein, instead tried to appeal to dancers' self-interest, shrieking that Cedarbaum's ruling set a dangerous precedent which would imperil choreographers' rights to their work. In making this argument, he found an ally in the New York Times (chiefly its chief dance critic), which took every possible opportunity to spin the Disctrict Court's ruling this way: It's not about Protas, choreographers, it's about your right to your work.

The Appeals Court ruling contradicts the Times spin, affirming that far from setting a dangerous precedent, Cedarbaum's decision was in fact based on 100 years of precedent. Protas's chief defender -- The New York Times -- is apparently not reporting the Appeals Court decision for the simple reason that it contradicts the New York Times's version of the truth.

Out of the Past

In a letter published on the DI Friday, Graham company artistic directors Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin referred to the company's "continuing financial disaster and the Company's part in it: reasons the Co. is not being booked as fast and frequently as desired, to become more profitable...." In the same letter, the artistic directors attributed much of the blame for the company's "financial disaster" to"the previous administration of the company." But Protas has not been in charge of the company's fortunes for nigh on four years now, and I would suggest that if the Graham company is not getting the earned and contributed income its fine repertoire and dancers deserve, at this point perhaps it should stop dragging the bogey man out of the closet and look at whether its current marketing and development team is on the right track.

Into the Future

Capucilli and Dakin write again to tell us that the company's next show arrives September 9 at the Hollywood Bowl, when it performs "Appalachian Spring" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic "on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the seminal Graham-Copland collaboration." The evening will also include a film montage of Martha Graham and Aaron Copland.

Next up is Philadelphia's Annenberg Center, where the company performs October 7-9 and also gives a master class, followed by an October 22 show at the Mondavi Center in Davis, California. The troupe touches down in Arcata in the Golden State October 25, and closes out its fall season October 27 in Portland, Oregon.

Performances resume January 28 in Princeton, followed by gigs in Washington, Houston, Austin, Palm Desert, California, San Diego, Newark and Virginia. The company's next New York season, April 6-17 at City Center, includes a premiere from Martha Clarke, an acrobat of G-d if I ever saw one.

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