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The Buzz, 12-18: Legacies
Long Live Martha; Frank Garcia, RIP; Mason Named Royal Director

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

We used to have a saying among the professional staff at a dance publication where I used to work: "____ Magazine: The best kept secret in the dance world." It was our way of trying to find a smile in the woeful reluctance of ownership to promote the fine product we were producing. What we -- the editorial and advertising team -- saw as information that needed to be spread, ownership saw as individual copies of magazines that were expensive to produce and thus could only be distributed sparingly. The same expression, only slightly modified, might have been applied to the works of Martha Graham during the decade that Ronald Protas claimed to own them: They became the best kept dances in the world, treated as a material possession to be hoarded rather than a legacy to be shared. With the Federal court decision that confirmed ownership of most of the Graham dances by the Martha Graham Center, and the passing of the artistic directorship from Protas to a team of dancers, it should not be surprising that the attitude of the new directors to the work has been one of expansion.

Most telling has been the reaction of artistic directors Terese Capucilli and Christine Dakin, as well as newly named artistic director, Martha Graham Resources, Janet Eilber, to Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum's ruling that ten of the works belong to the public domain. ("Appalachian Spring," "Night Journey," "Chronicle/Steps in the Street," "Lamentation," "American Document," "Heretic," "Flute of Krishna," "Frontier," "Panorama," and "Celebration.") Rather than seeing this aspect of the decision as a threat to the work or their control of it, they see it, for the most part, as a potential opportunity to expand the reach of the work, their main concern being that it is presented with integrity.

It is partly to that end that the Center has now created the department of Martha Graham Resources, headed by Eilber, on whom Graham personally set and created many lead roles in her ballets. "By adding Ms. Eilber, who worked closely with Martha Graham as a principal dancer," the Center explained earlier this week, "the Martha Graham Center broadens its mission to include sharing the works of Graham with other arts organizations and performers as well as preserving and making available the vast 76 years of archival assets: sets, costumes, audio and video recordings, photographs and correspondence."

Even re-typing that statement just now, I find the word 'sharing,' as applied to this legacy so bitterly contested over the last two years, makes me tear up. Under the previous directorship, the one word most often used for a short-hand description of Graham's work -- 'contracting' -- took on a different, tragic meaning, as the director's vision contracted. Under Capucilli, Dakin, executive director Marvin Preston, and now Eilber, the operative word has become 'expanding.' I shared this reflection earlier this week with Eilber, and she shared a reflection from Albert Einstein: You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it.

In announcing Eilber's appointment, executive director Marvin Preston also spoke of sharing. The new Martha Graham organization taking shape, Preston said, is characterized as "collaborative, inclusive, sharing, driven by art which itself is being served by business people with proven records of achievement." The former principal dancer's achievements include developing artistic content and interviewing early generations of Graham artists for the Library of Congress Legacy Project.

Eilber, who will be responsible for licensing and assisting other dance institutions in mounting Graham's work, as well as building liaisons with other Graham artists, explained to the DI: "We want to help with any production of a Graham work, even those in the public domain. Our goal is to become an extremely user-friendly resource for anyone interested in Martha's work. The combination of licensing, archival resources, and our most valuable resource, the artistry of generations of Graham artists, will allow us to contribute to the quality and artistic integrity of any Graham project -- performances, residencies, documentaries, research, multimedia study guides, lectures, exhibits, articles, etcetera, etcetera."

University dance departments are likely to be among the biggest beneficiaries of this new resource. Earlier this year, I asked Eilber how the Center could help to ensure that the dances now in the public domain are executed with integrity. "This is an opportunity for the Center to forge relationships with the major University dance departments," she responded in part. "It has been a dream of mine to see more of the Graham repertoire performed by students. And the Center will reap the benefits of having a relationship with the newest generation of dancers, critics, administrators, teachers, and funders."

.... Like the Martha Graham Center, the resources of the Murray Louis and Nikolais Dance Company included a vast wardrobe. The greatest human resource to that costume collection -- and just an essential HUMAN resource to the company, period -- was Frank Garcia, who for many years designed and constructed the costumes. So the Louis and Nikolais dancers blessed to be able to work with Garcia were devastated by his death Friday after a brief battle with leukemia.

"Frankie was one of the most genuinely kind and funny people I ever knew," said Sara Hook, the former Louis and Nikolais dancer, currently on the faculty of the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. "He held the company together sometimes by calmly listening to our whines and complaints, nodding and laughing, of course having heard it all before and knowing that it would be over the next day.... His work was uncompromisingly original and beautiful. In my opinion he never got enough creative credit for the designs he did. Yes Nik dreamed and schemed them up but Frankie gave them form and put love in every stitch. And it was Frankie's very brave and ultimatley creative act to believe in Nik's vision from the very very beginning. And I mean BELIEVE in capitals because there has never been a more loyal collaborator."

Added former Nik-Louis dancer Pamela Levy-Arauz: "Frankie was the quiet backbone and steady support to all that knew him. As a dancer in a difficult and emotionally demanding field, he always made me feel good about myself on 'those days,' offering wise advice and gentle encouragement, along with a little sweet (usually a honey-candy!) to help patch it all up and move on."

"We will all miss him terribly."

....This just in: Monica Mason, acting director of the Royal Ballet since Ross Stretton stepped down in September amidst complaints and defections from dancers, was today named director of the company by Royal Opera House Chairman Sir Colin Southgate. Mason, a longtime assistant to former director Sir Anthony Dowell, joined the company in 1958 at the age of 16, making her its youngest member at the time. After a brief period in the corps, she was selected by Kenneth MacMillan to create the demanding role of the Chosen Maiden in his 1962 "Rite of Spring." She was made principal in 1968. Her appointment as director runs through 2007.

Said Sir Colin: "The Board is delighted that Monica Mason has agreed to take up the reins as director of the Royal Ballet. She has already impressed us with the swiftness with which she restored calm to the company and the changes that she has introduced to the repertory this season. I personally look forward to her exciting plans for the future." ROH executive director Tony Hall said Mason has "made an enormous contribution to the company as a dancer, a coach and in particular through her work as custodian of the Kenneth MacMillan repertory."

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