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This Spring's Dance Insider coverage of Martha Graham is also sponsored by Nancy Reynolds, Doug Frank, Nora Ambrosio and Slippery Rock University, Karen Bradley, Barry Fischer and Frostburg State University, the Arts Paper, Scott Killian, Sharon Montella and Pine Manor College, Toba Singer, Esaias Johnson, Alice Helpern, and several anonymous donors. And by Karen Potter, Kelly Holt, and by the MFA students, faculty and Friends of Dance at Case Western Reserve University, where dancers receive professional level training in a conservatory setting, and who are are proud to support the Dance Insider's coverage of the Martha Graham Dance Company. To find out about becoming a DI sponsor, e-mail paul@danceinsider.com.

Flash News & Analysis, 4-25: Protas Takes the Stand
Center: Protas "physically aggressive" with Graham

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

NEW YORK -- The Martha Graham Center has accused Martha Graham heir Ronald Protas of being "physically aggressive with Graham," depriving the mother of Modern Dance of nurses for two days and leaving her "unable to feed or clean herself" after he "learned that Graham had contacted a lawyer in an attempt to change her will." It has also accused him of removing "some of Graham's possessions from her home as she lay dying."

The sensational claims surfaced in proposed findings of fact filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan by the Center, which is being sued by Protas over who owns the rights to Graham's ballets.

Court papers filed by Protas lawyer Judd Burstein vigorously contest the allegations, calling them "outrageous and irrelevent." Regarding the accusation that he deprived Graham of food, Protas told the New York Post Sunday: "That never happened. She was more than capable of opening a refrigerator and getting into the cheesecake and feeding herself. And she paid $900 a month for a monitor that connected her to emergency numbers. All she'd have had to do was press the button."

The Center also charges that on the Monday after her nurses had allegedly been taken away from her, "Graham called a Center employee and stated, 'he has taken everything from me, I have nothing.'"

Exactly what Graham had when she died on April 1, 1991 -- and what she was giving away when she willed Protas everything "owned by me at the time of my death" -- is at the crux of the trial, in its second phase this spring after Protas lost the first round last year, the judge saying he could not prevent the center and the Graham school from using Graham's name or advertising it taught her technique.

Much of Protas's testimony Tuesday concerned material he claims is owned by him and in the possession of the center, including costumes, sets by Isamu Noguchi, personal clothes, an IBM typewriter, and three Chinese moon viewing chairs.

"Is there only one ballet that has Noguchi sets?" Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum asked Protas.

"No, 18."

The judge then asked if all the sets were in storage, Protas having testified that much of the possessions went back and forth over the last ten years between warehouses in Yonkers and New Jersey.

"Except for one set," said Protas, "which Martha and I lent to the Noguchi museum (in Queens). It's still there."

"How long did all those sets sit in the warehouse?" asked Cedarbaum.

"When I started working with Martha in 1972, they were there," said Protas, explaining that they were only removed when the ballets involving them were performed. "Martha and I would decide what ballets they (the Graham dancers) were performing," he claimed.

The Judge also pressed Protas on the Chinese moon viewing chairs; he explained that during Graham's lifetime, they were sent with her on tour because she liked to lecture from them.

Also among the possessions he is seeking the return of, Protas said, are dance clothes by Danskin, outfits by the designer Halston, low benches designed by Noguchi, photos of Graham's family, and 800 copies of "Blood Memory," the biography attributed to Graham. Protas had to read from a list to recall these objects because his own memory, he testified, "is a disaster..."

Protas's case took a desperate, if not disastrous turn Tuesday when Burstein tried to separate the Center from the School for this phase of the trial, an apparent attempt not to have this stage of the dispute, which centers on copyright, to be bound by the judge's logic in ruling against his client in the last phase, which involved trademark. The judge strongly urged him to reconsider this tact.

Earlier in the day, the judge also had the opportunity to lecture to mock trial students from Dewitt Clinton High School who were observing the day's events. Here's how she encapsulated the essence of the case:

"Martha Graham left a will in which she left everything she had to the plaintiff in the case," i.e. Protas. "She didn't specify what she had. This is a dispute over what she had. She couldn't leave what she didn't have....This is a dispute over whether before her death, Miss Graham had transferred her copyrights to the center which supported her (and) her work, (and) which paid her throughout her lifetime.

Not all the parties which could have benefited from this explanation were in the courtroom at the time. The New York Times, for one, has apparently already resolved the dispute, stating in its report Tuesday, "Graham left the dances to Ronald Protas..."

The New York Post, meanwhile, while not getting this fact wrong, could use some instruction in another area. Its news report on the case Sunday was headlined: "Graham - Copyright Tussle Pirouettes into Court." The pirouette, while not an unknown sighting in modern dance, is more typically found in ballet.

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