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The Buzz, 11-8: Of Stakes & Staffs
DNB's Weber doesn't get it; Graham Center gets Joan & gets at Protas

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2005 The Dance Insider

DNB: Time for new leadership

Nothing like a little outrage to fuel my morning run. Erika Kinetz's report in yesterday's Times, following up on our scoop of a week ago that the Dance Notation Bureau has laid off most of its staff, propelled me right to the top of Montmartre this morning. It wasn't just that Lynne Weber, chair of one of the most crucial organizations in dance -- they record and preserve the dances -- explained the lay-offs of five of six staff October 28, including two ace notators, by the realization October 26 that the DNB "ran out of money," adding, "We were not aware the financial situation was as bad as it was." No, according to the Times, after initially blaming the sackings on a grant that fell through, Weber (apparently) is now also attributing the crisis to, among other things, an errant bookkeeper, who allegedly stopped showing up for work in May and who wasn't replaced by a travelling (albeit working) executive director until September and the passing of three board members (apparently the only ones who knew how to count) and one employee. (It's no tribute to the hard work invested by Maria Grandy, Mickey Topaz, and Beverly Jensen to imply that their legacy is in danger because they're no longer around to steward it.) My question: Why was it allowed to get to this point?

In breaking this news and commenting upon it last week, I tried to be understanding; after all, just as no one sets out to make a bad dance, I'm sure that neither Weber nor DNB executive director Ilene Fox set out to make a bad dance notation bureau. And if they were showing any real acknowledgment of the work they need to do -- instead of attributing the DNB's problems to an errant grant, disappearing bookkeepers, travelling executive directors and departing board members -- I would be all for rallying behind them. But frankly, from the press releases and other words filtering out from Weber over the past week, I now believe that if this invaluable organization is to continue with its precious mission and fulfill its utility, the DNB needs an entirely new and more dynamic board leadership, including people who either have money or have the clout to raise it. Let's draft Paul Taylor and/or William Forsythe -- choreographers who have benefited by the work of the DNB, preserving their dances in the truest possible form -- as chairmen or even honorary chairmen. Then let's find a new executive director who isn't just hard-working -- as Fox no doubt is -- but hungry, with a political campaign manager's ambition for her cause. My pick would be the veteran notator (and former DI contributor) Sandra Aberkalns, who not only knows her field, but knows how to schmooze. Or someone equally tireless and ambitious. And if the DNB fails to take steps like these -- to truly change its dynamic, specifically as pertains to executive leadership, mission promotion, and development -- I suggest an alternate agency, a second organization to ensure this work continues, and maybe even to nip at the heels of the original so it doesn't take us for granted.

PS: Weber has also cited a disappointing fall membership drive (what fall membership drive?) as responsible for the budget crisis. To have a membership, you have to have a constituency. Pop quiz: What should be the biggest natural consistency for an organization trained and qualified to preserve dances with more accuracy than video archives or oral history? That's right -- choreographers! And yet most contemporary choreographers disdain notation, preferring video. Why? Because they don't understand it! How can we change this? By REQUIRING notation instruction for all college dance majors and ballet students. Et voila: You have created both a market for your work and a constituency to support it.


Graham cacklers

The Martha Graham Center is apparently now claiming the Graham company has the right to perform Martha Graham's 1955 Joan of Arc tale "Seraphic Dialogue" -- previously ceded, I thought, to Graham heir Ronald Protas by a federal court judgment -- for the next ten years, at no cost. The claim is buried in an October memo from center executive director Marvin Preston to publicist Jonathan Marder, who insisted on sharing it with me, along with a copy of an alleged letter from Protas. It would have sufficed to share this good news with us; the only reason I can see for including Protas's letter and a running account by Preston whose gist seems to be Protas allegedly blew it by missing a payment deadline is to further pile it on Preston's predecessor (i.e. Protas). I'm having none of this. These people blew their moral authority last May, when they ignominiously fired as artistic directors Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, the veteran Graham dancers who almost singularly held the company together during the Protas years, replacing them with a director who, incredibly, would be commuting from Los Angeles to New York for the job. (Eight days after Capucilli and Dakin's employment as ADs had, by their own account, been terminated, the same Mr. Marder sent out a press release saying they had been 'elevated' to 'artistic director laureate status,' about the most sickening attempt at spin I've ever encountered, at least in dance.) By this step -- which in its classlessness far outstripped anything Protas ever did -- the current Graham management forfeited its right to cackle at Protas, not to mention its right to our loyalty. (Following a previous statement by his then-attorney that he had instructed Protas not to talk to the DI, we did not attempt to contact him for this story, but are happy to share his point of view in a future column.)

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