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