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Flash News and Analysis, 2-26: GRAHAM COMPANY RETURNS TO STAGE
May 9 City Center Gig First Performance in Two Years

By Paul Ben-Itzak with Darrah Carr
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

NEW YORK -- After nearly a two-year absence spent wrangling over ballet ownership and other issues with its previous artistic director and getting the Martha Graham School back on its feet, the Martha Graham Dance Company will return to the stage May 9 at City Center, the Dance Insider has learned.

The one-night only performance, "Indisputably Martha Graham," will include Graham classics "Seraphic Dialogue," "Lamentation," "Embattled Garden," and "Night Journey," as well as the previously reconstructed Steps in the Street section from the 1936 "Chronicle," according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The performance will come just after the scheduled April 22 resumption of the company's Federal District Court trial in Manhattan, where it is defending itself against former artistic director Ronald Protas. Last summer, Protas was dealt a heavy blow when Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum ruled he could not prevent the Martha Graham Center and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance from using the name "Martha Graham," or advertising that it teaches "Martha Graham technique." In her ruling, Cedarbaum also found that Protas was not a credible witness, and that he had breached his fiduciary duty of loyalty to the Center and School, by registering "Martha Graham" and "Martha Graham technique" in his own name while he was a member of both organizations' boards of directors.

The next phase of the trial will decide who owns the rights to Martha Graham's ballets. Protas has contended that Graham left the ballets to him in her will, while the company has contended that the core issue is not who owns Graham's dances, but over royalties.

Between "Chorale" in 1926 and "Maple Leaf Rag" in 1990, Martha Graham created 191 dances. Applicable copyright laws changed twice over the course of her lifetime, Graham center executive director Marvin Preston IV told the Dance Insider in August, and some of Graham's dances, he contends, would be considered in the public domain. It is unlikely, Preston said, that either Protas or the company would be ruled to own all the ballets.

Whether Protas will raise objections to the May 9 performance is unclear; an e-mail to his office Friday requesting comment went unanswered. His side had previously agreed not to object to a 76th anniversary gala for the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance planned for April 18 -- 76 years to the day after the premiere of Graham's first dance, "Chorale."

The Graham company has not performed since May of 2000, when its board suspended company operations, cancelling seasons planned that summer for the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC and the Kennedy Center, citing an accumulated deficit of $300,000. A the time, the recently ousted Protas blamed the board for the deficit, while a board leader insisted that Protas's reluctance to fully relinquish control made it difficult to attract new donors. The dancers initially announced, through their union the American Guild of Musical Artists, that they would file an unfair labor practice complaint over the company's suspension, but eventually sided with the board. At last Spring's trial, reaction from Graham dancers in the courtroom ranged from audible gasps of indignation at some of Protas's testimony, to relief that they finally had their day in court.

The center recently received grants from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation.

The May 9 evening promises a trove of Graham riches, for those who have already seen its brilliance and the uninitiated as well. A side effect of the absence of the Graham company from performing stages for the last two years is that, even as the company's board of directors fights valiantly to save Martha's legacy, the public conception of Graham's dances has eroded by virtue of being seen only in satirists' one-dimensional versions.

(In France, where, as recounted by Agnes de Mille, Martha Graham was once feted on the Paris Opera Stage, her hand held by Rudolf Nureyev as the French Minister of Culture hung the Chevalier de la Legion of d'Honneur around her neck and kissed her cheek, her work is hardly taught any longer.)

The impression of Graham dance abroad in the general public is often of exaggerated psycho-drama, whereas, in reality, Graham technique draws from nature -- Human and Mother.

Not that the work doesn't occasionally reach for, and attain, the divine.

"Seraphic Dialogue" was first presented as "The Triumph of St. Joan" in 1951, before being re-worked four years later with its current title. The 'dialogue' of the title refers to one which takes place between Joan of Arc and Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret at her moment of exaltation. The work, Agnes de Mille commented in her 1992 biography "Martha," "owed much to Miss Ruth (St. Denis, in whose company Graham started her dance career). But Martha went way beyond Miss Ruth. Martha achieved a knife edge, a black thrust; she gave a live vibrancy to martyrdom and sainthood. She knew through, she valued, she evaluated pain. She was at the root of intensity.

"Verily, Martha did the impossible: she produced onstage a sense of beatitude. Berrtram Ross's performance as Saint Michael approached holiness."

To read more about the Martha Graham case dubbed "Graham v. Graham" by federal court clerks, please go back to our Home page and enter "Graham" in the search engine window on the left. To read Graham's will in its entirety, please enter "Graham & Will" or "By Martha Graham" in the search engine window.


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