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Flash News, 4-17: One Last Reconnaissance Mission for Hodes
Graham Star Dancer Sets Stage for Star Witness
Bring on the CPA

"It strikes me we've had a great deal of hearsay in this trial, especially as to the statements of Martha Graham."

-- Federal Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, presiding over the case of Ronald Protas, et al, versus the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, et al

"When the body is exhaling air, it gets smaller. She calls that movement contraction."

--Stuart Hodes, former partner to Martha Graham and Head of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

At about 3 p.m. Monday, a dapper older gentlemen in an immaculate silver-gray suit, white shirt and silver bow-tie, walking through the security checkpoint at the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan, emptied his pockets of eight pairs of glasses. This morning, that man will be asked to look back 45 years and tell a tense courtroom whether a dancer-choreographer named Martha Graham followed his advice and turned the right to use her name over to the Martha Graham School, an institution from which her heir is now trying to take that name back.

Today the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance is headed by former Graham principal and leading man Stuart Hodes, who supervises a staff that includes Graham legends Pearl Lang, Yuriko, Terese Capucilli, Christine Dakin and Ethel Winter. Ronald Protas, the former Graham company artistic director who has never taken a dance class but says he was privately instructed by Graham, also seeks to stop the Graham School from advertising that it teaches the "Martha Graham technique."

Protas argues that because Graham left him everything she owned when she passed away in 1991, he owns her name and the name of her technique, whose trademarks, he says, he has registered. The crux of the Defense -- the Graham School and Center being sued by Protas -- is that in a purchase agreement dated November 26, 1956, Graham granted the school the right to use her name. Rubin Gorewitz, the man with the eight pairs of glasses, is the CPA who suggested and drew up the agreement, which involved setting up a not-for-profit school as a way to ease Graham's personal tax burden. So argue the attorneys for the Center and School. Gorewitz testifies this morning, in a trial which began last month and which Federal Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum says she aims to see wrapped up by the end of the week.

On Monday, Graham attorney Dale M. Cendali tried to set the stage for Gorewitz's entrance -- not just today, but in 1956 -- by calling her other star witness, Hodes, 76, who by 1956 was already a veteran Graham dancer and leading Graham partner.

First Cendali established Hodes's credentials, which include 12 years as a Graham principal after 3 1/2 years flying bomber missions over Italy in World War II, 24 years taking at least once class per day at the school, 12 Broadway shows, leadership positions at New York University and the Dance Notation Bureau, and various government advisory posts. Then she asked him about financial conditions at the company in the mid-fifties, on which subject she got an assist from Protas lawyer James J. McGuire, who started the subject down the road of dancer salaries.

"Were you paid for your dance work with the company, sir?" the dour McGuire asked Hodes.

"Mostly, no," answered the dancer.

The judge then pressed him: "Did you ever discuss money with Martha Graham?"

"Martha would tell us how difficult things were financially," Hodes recalled. "At the end of our European tour in 1954, she said she hoped she would be able to pay people in a regular salary of $50 per week. Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way."

"Hearsay!" McGuire objected.

"It strikes me," pointed out the judge, with a sidelong glance at Protas, "(that) we've had a great deal of hearsay in this trial, especially as to the statements of Martha Graham."

(In previous testimony, Protas has claimed to represent various Graham sentiments, including that towards the end of her life, she didn't care much for her school, center, or company, and that she didn't care much for Mr. Hodes's skills as a dancer. Cendali answered this last comment by, after eliciting from Mr. Hodes that he had danced opposite Graham in ballets including "Appalachian Spring," "Errand into the Maze," "The Punch and the Judy" and others, asking him who selected him for those roles, to which Hodes answered: Martha Graham.)

"How frequently were you paid?" the judge continued.

"We were paid for two weeks of rehearsal, (the) two weeks before the New York season," Hodes recalled. At that point, he explained, the union representative would announce that the company was going into rehearsal, even though in fact, "we rehearsed all year." The dancers were also paid on tour, Hodes added.

"How much?" asked the judge.

In 1947, Hodes reported, he was paid $60. On the company's famous 1955-56 Far East tour, dancers were paid $250, which was expected to cover salary and all expenses.

"Were there periods when there was no pay?" the judge asked.

"All during rehearsals, which did and could last all year long," answered Hodes.

"Was that a deviation from industry standards?" queried the judge.

"No," answered Hodes. "It was normal for modern dance."

Hodes supported himself, he explained, through teaching and with $14,000 he'd saved from his Army pay.

Protas, in his testimony, had difficulty describing the Martha Graham technique, a fact of which the judge had made note. Hodes was glad to oblige.

"What is Martha Graham technique?" asked Cendali.

"It's a way of acquiring dance skills, and a way of dancing," Hodes began.

"How different is it from ballet?"

"Profoundly," Hodes answered. "Although it makes use of certain things in ballet, ballet is from European court dancing -- (things) in the air. It tries to hide effort. Modern dance reveals effort. It takes a lot of physical pleasure in movement and its revelation. It strikes from the center out -- and attempts to use all the muscles of the body at the same instant" as if they are built on the same one muscle. It also addresses life cycles, he said, and focuses attention on the relationships between performers.

And -- in the most simply eloquent testimony of the trial, because it made clear how much Martha Graham technique, trademark symbol or no, has been absorbed into the bodies of every trained modern dancer -- Hodes added: "And breathing. When the body is exhaling air, it gets smaller. She calls that movement contraction. Inhaling is called release." He next explained: "You spiral -- as soon as you step forward, the body emphasizes that. It's one of the requirements of Graham technique."

Yesterday's session bogged down over exactly those words: "Graham technique." Cendali introduced a heap of documents which, she said, were course descriptions from various universities and schools, downloaded from the Internet, and which referred to teaching or using the Martha Graham technique.

McGuire objected strenuously and repeatedly, in a drawn-out colloquy with the judge, that these documents did not prove these universities actually taught the technique, or even that they advertised their teaching of it. After much back and forth, however, Judge Cedarbaum declared that if the Defense was "trying to show that something is so generically used that it loses its distinction...I'm going to take it to show that on any given day you can print out any number of publications that use the name 'Graham technique' -- because that's what it shows. For what they are worth as words coupled together with the word dance that appear in many places, I accept" the evidence.

However, Cedarbaum reserved judgment as to whether to accept sheaves of documents that, Cendali said, showed the term Graham technique had been mentioned in dancer biographies and in newspaper articles. "This is more of a hodge-podge," the judge pointed out.

Although it has yet to be discussed in depth in this trial, at the root of the Graham School and Center's case is their concern that if Protas is able to maintain exclusive ownership of the name Martha Graham and the term Martha Graham technique, that technique -- the foundation of all modern dance -- will not be passed on to future generations of dancers. Protas counters that he intends to work with universities to continue to propagate the technique. In an apparent attempt to shed light on what will happen if Graham dancers -- such as those teaching at the school, which currently accommodates 247 students, according to Hodes -- are unable to pass on Graham technique and dances, Cendali asked Hodes about three modes for preserving dances.

Hodes, a former president of the Dance Notation Bureau, said notation is "very good over a long period of time," because, essentially, it protects the choreography from "the interpretation of the performer," which is not always reliable. Labanotation is a fixed system. "And it's on paper, so it has (an infinite) life," Hodes explained, provided the paper on which it is recorded is sound enough.

In Graham's case, only the 1948 "Diversion of Angels" (in which Hodes and Lang originated roles) has been partly notated -- "partly," Hodes later told The Dance Insider, because, he said, a dance notation is not considered complete until a notator who did not record the score has taught it to dancers who have never danced the dance. Why has only one dance been notated? "First," Hodes said, Graham "doubted (notation) worked." And, he explained outside the courthouse as his daughter Martha (so named because she was born during the filming of "Appalachian Spring," in which Hodes starred opposite Graham) looked on, "She didn't want to let it out of her hands."

Where the interpretation of the performer is given primacy is in film and video documentation. "It has some inherent problems," Hodes testified, including that in preserving the individual interpretation, these forms preserve mistakes as well.

But the best method of preservation, Hodes said in his testimony, is still the time-honored one. "A dancer who knows the part teaches the dance to someone learning it.... If the current generation of dancers does not teach these dances, the dances will be lost."

As to whether the Graham School will lose its right to use the name Martha Graham and the term Martha Graham technique, the judge seemed to offer some hope in yesterday's concluding remarks.

"Plaintiff wants to show infringement that warrants an injunction," she observed, and "that I should direct the school and center to stop using the name -- a very extreme remedy. You (the Defense) want to show that I should not do that.... This is a very unusual case in many ways -- including its moving nature. But so it is -- human affairs are often unusual."

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