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Flash News, 1-5: But First, a School
Hodes Flies One More Mission for Martha

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

Ask any dancer who spent time at the old Martha Graham School on East 63rd Street, and they'll tell you how special the floor was: smooth, untrammeled by pointe or jazz shoes, easy on the knees -- as you might expect of a floor on which only bare feet had danced for so many years. When the Martha Graham Center sold the building a couple of years back, the dancers were given chunks of that floor, it was so special to them.

Last night, a gathering lead by wily board chairman Francis Mason; foxy executive director Marvin Preston; new head of school Stuart Hodes, a feisty World War II bomber pilot who went on to dance with Martha Graham in the trenches for 11 years, and to chair the dance program at New York University; and at least three other Graham legends christened the spanking-new floor at the Graham Center's newly-leased temporary home in Chelsea good to go.

The school, forced into hiatus eight months ago when the center suspended operations due to a financial crisis and, implicitly, an ongoing struggle with Graham heir Ron Protas over the use of Graham's ballets and name, re-opens this month.

Last night's opening cocktail reception also marked a reunion of sorts, as the current dancers of the company shared stories of how they've been coping since the May suspension.

As for Hodes, well, while Protas may be the legal heir to the Graham canon, the new school director left no doubt as to where her spirit resides.

Recalling the day in September 1946 when, fresh from flying B-12 bomber missions (for which he was awarded an Air Medal), he walked into the Graham studio on East 63rd Street, Hodes explained, "It was the magic of that studio" which made him believe he could be a dancer. "Those people knew they were going to change themselves, and it wasn't out of the question they were going to change the world. I don't know whether Martha created that magic, but she allowed it to happen. I want that magic back."

In the years he ran the company after Graham's death in 1991, Protas also was said to have dis-allowed some of those who created that original magic from entering the building. Hodes made it clear that one of the ways he'll re-capture that magic is to open the schools doors again, to all alumni. "Bob Cohan, Bertram Ross, Mark Dendy -- I want them to come back. I want to preserve - more importantly, I want to disseminate the things I've learned."

Terese Capucilli, the legendary Graham dancer, seconded that emotion. "Part of the importance of the center now is to embrace all these artists who have been ostracized from the center for so long," Capucilli told The Dance Insider. "The tragedy for so many years has been that so many people were not allowed to be in the studio.... Those are people who knew Martha, and knew her theater, so it is important that they be embraced."

But if Hodes wants to embrace the exiles, he also doesn't want to hoard Martha. "I'm not going to be disturbed if someone from Milan sees a video of 'Appalachian Spring' and wants to do it," he said, adding that he hopes that ballet becomes as omnipresent as "The Nutcracker." The septuagenarian dancer, looking and sounding like the William Jennings Bryan of dance, proclaimed, "I don't believe dance is like aspirin, where you invent it, you patent it, you bottle it, and you put a lock on it. Martha didn't have as much confidence in her choreography as we have. She wasn't sure her dances would work without her presence. That's why she didn't want them notated. I want to see competition."

Marvin Preston, the center's executive director, insisted that Protas's ownership of the Graham ballets does not prevent the teaching of her technique -- they just won't call it that. "We're teaching the know-how and the knowledge," he said.

One of the people who will be imparting that know-how, beginning January 16, is Capucilli, who echoed Preston's confidence that the re-opening of the school -- the company is still closed as center lawyers continue to haggle with Protas attorneys -- is an important moment. "This had to be the first step," she explained, "because that's where life begins -- you can't have a company without a school. You have to go back to the source."

To do that, Capucilli, Hodes, fellow legend Christine Dakin, and the rest of the faculty will be working in intimate quarters: an 80 by 20 foot studio, with windows exposed to the south and mirrors on the other side, that will often be divided into two 40 by 20 spaces. The center has leased the new studio on the ninth floor at 37 W. 26th Street -- the caulking appeared to be still drying last night -- from Stepping Out studios, said administrative director Amy Harrison.

At the end of the year, it hopes to move back to its old, newly refurbished home on East 63rd, where, Preston confirmed to the DI, the center has secured the funds for reconstruction.

Not that it has retired its debt and is entirely out of the woods. "We do need reserves," the executive director acknowledged, emphasizing that the company is still seeking support to augment state and city funds. "I'm not going to suspend operations again."

Just how successful the center will be in securing the funds to ensure that promise, as well as who ultimately has the rights to perform Martha Graham's ballets, remains to be seen. However, as dancers old and new, old money and starving students mingled last night, one fact was abundantly clear. "We don't have Martha now," said Hodes, the veteran of many bomber missions and many more tangos with Graham. "But we do have her legacy -- not only her dances, but a process."

The Graham center also has her current generation of dancers, whom Preston was careful to thank. "Our dancers did something (no one) could have predicted" in siding with the board over Protas after it suspended operations, he told the gathering. "Every one of the dancers deserve extraordinary support for that trust."

The Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance holds an open house next week, from 2:30 - 5:30 Monday through Friday, for registration and, on Wednesday and Thursday, auditions for its Professional Trainee program. Conversations with distinguished faculty will be held daily next week, beginning at 4:30, with Hodes speaking Monday; Susan Kikuchi Tuesday; Jacqulyn Buglisi and Donlin Foreman on Wednesday; Capucilli on Thursday; and Sophie Maslow on Friday. From February 12 through March 9, Pearl Lang, the first woman to inherit many of Graham's roles, and who was also in resplendent attendance last night, teaches a workshop on Movement for Actors. Additional faculty include Elizabeth Auclair, Marianne Bachmann, Ariel Bonilla, Dakin, Sandra Kaufmann, Virginie Mecene, Miki Orihara, Alessandra Prosperi, Kenneth Topping, and Dudley Williams.

For more information, please call 212-838-5886.

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