Altogether Different Festival
featured photo

The Kitchen

Brought to you by
Body Wrappers; New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.
Go back to Flash Reviews

Go Home

Flash News, 1-15: Protas Sues
Graham Heir Takes Center and School to Court

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

In a showdown as dramatic as any archetypal battle Martha Graham might have dreamed up, the man who owns the rights to her ballets Friday filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan to stop the Martha Graham Center and School from using Graham's name, also seeking unspecified damages, The Dance Insider has learned.

A copy of the 46-page lawsuit, filed in United States District Court, Southern District of New York by Ronald Protas, the Martha Graham Trust of which Protas is the sole Trustee, and the Night Journey Foundation, was provided to The Dance Insider by Marvin Preston, the executive director of the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance.

Protas's action comes as the Graham School is set to resume classes tomorrow after a 7-month hiatus, at new, temporary headquarters in Chelsea.

A representative of the Graham Trust Saturday confirmed that the lawsuit had been filed.

While the Graham board and Protas have wrangled since May, when the board suspended operations of the company and school citing financial problems, Friday's action represents the first time Protas and the trust have actually filed a lawsuit against the center, Preston said.

Preston, interviewed Saturday by telephone, emphasized that the center would still prefer a negotiated settlement to a court dispute.

"Everybody wins if there's a settlement," he said. "We come to some sort of agreement, everyone shakes hands, and we can continue to propagate the know-how and art of Martha Graham. A court action may (result) in everyone winning, (it) may not, but it will certainly take a lot longer, and just the passage of time will hurt the art form. Our interest is very real in settlement, and we frankly have not attacked Ron because we want to facilitate a settlement."

However, Preston also allowed that, "from our point of view," the law suit is "good news because it formalizes the battle that we've been preparing for.... We've all along tried to make it clear that we are not anxious to initiate any battle, but knowing the nature of this dispute, (we knew) at some point it would happen, and we see that as good news because a battle is long over-due. It needs some kind of resolution -- preferably a settlement, but it's increasingly likely it will be litigated. If (we're) not going to settle fairly definitively, we'll be in court. Entering in the formal process will be good, because it will demand a resolution."

Protas's 46-page lawsuit enumerates numerous charges and accusations, concluding with 15 "causes of action" that include alleged Federal trademark infringement, alleged false designation of origin as regards use of the Martha Graham (MG) trademarks, alleged commercial use of the MG trademarks without authorization, alleged unfair competition, alleged breach of contract as regards the licensing agreement between the trust and the center over the use of Graham's ballets, alleged breach of contract regarding royalties and other issues and fees, alleged infliction of mental distress, and alleged civil conspiracy.

The suit asks the court to enjoin the center and school from using the MG marks in advertising, promotion, and commerce; from representing themselves as having the rights to use Graham's name or likeness; from operating any web site which includes the Graham name; and from reproducing or preparing derivative versions of, or performing Martha Graham works publicly without authorization from the trust or foundation.

It also asks that the company and school surrender all advertising, promotional, and other goods with the Martha Graham name to the trust and that it account to the trust for profits derived by the use of the Graham name and trademarks.

Protas seeks damages, "to be determined at trial" according to the suit, for the alleged "willful trademark infringement, (and) unfair competition;" punitive damages for alleged unfair competition; and return of personal property and sets allegedly in the possession of the center. He also seeks damages for alleged breach of contract, alleged intentional affliction of emotional distress, and the alleged civil conspiracy, "to be determined at trial."

According to Preston, Protas's action comes after Protas earlier in the week sent a letter of demand asking the Center and School to cease and desist in the use of the Graham name.

Preston declined Saturday to respond in full to the charges contained in Protas's suit, saying that he had only just gotten the suit, and that he preferred to defer to counsel.

"There are many arguments on our behalf; it's a matter of which arguments are to be applied and in what order, and that is up to our Counsel. Our point of view is yet to be heard."

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home