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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,
5-10: Back to the Future
Dancers, Audience Take Back Martha
"It was exactly as I remember it."
--Tony Randall, actor and former Martha Graham student
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider
NEW YORK -- They say possession
is nine-tenths of the law, and long before the Martha Graham Dance Company's first
performance in two years concluded last night at City Center, it was clear who
possesses the dances of Martha Graham: the dancers and the audience. Or, as Jacob's
Pillow director Ella Baff put it when asked who owns the work: "We all do." (To
read Tom Patrick's review of the performance, please click
Legally speaking, the question of
who owns the ballets of Martha Graham -- former director Ron Protas or the Martha
Graham Center which includes Graham's company and school -- has been batted around
in federal district court for the last year.
"Part of me wishes the judge could
be here tonight to see what all this is about," quipped attorney Dale Cendali,
who helped convince Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum last year that Protas owned
neither the name Martha Graham nor the term 'Martha Graham technique.'
The marquee custodians of that work
-- the members of the Martha Graham Dance Company -- had not performed since May
2000, when the Graham board, with the dancers' eventual concurrence, suspended
operations because of debts it said were incurred in large part because Protas
would not exit gracefully. Last night, with the concurrence of their union the
American Guild of Musical Artists, the dancers performed for free.
Before, during, and after the performance,
the dancers veered on a roller-coaster of emotions that ranged from trepidation
to pride, expressed in tears and triumph.
"When that curtain went up, we all
started to cry," said veteran Christine Dakin, referring to the first moments
of Graham's 1955 "Seraphic Dialogue," which she and co-artistic coordinator Terese
Capucilli selected to open the evening. In this dancer-designed program, they
also chose 'Conversation of Lovers,' the duet from the 1981 "Acts of Light"; the
1958 "Embattled Garden"; the 1947 "Night Journey"; and the somber procession of
female strength in numbers 'Steps in the Street' from the 1936 suite "Chronicle."
Feeling the weight of "the audience
waiting to see it and us loving to dance" the work, Dakin confessed, "I was glad
I was not dancing the first dance, because I was in tears."
Virginie Mecene, who was dancing
'Seraphic,' portraying her fellow Frenchwoman Joan of Arc as a Maid, also "felt
overwhelmed by the welcoming of the people. Before we started, in my chest I felt
trembling -- because I was so happy to hear all these people.... I was trembling
from happiness because it was all so lovely."
"It felt like a dream," said Martin
Lofsnes, who gave the "Acts of Light" duet opposite Katherine Crockett. "But on
the other hand, it felt like no time had passed -- of course we should be doing
Explaining what he was feeling to
well-wishers at last night's after-party, Lofsnes said that unlike some dancers
with the company, he never knew Martha -- all he knew was her work. For last night's
"Indisputably Martha Graham" program, the performing dancers had the assistance
of veterans who were taught the work by Martha Graham directly and other past
artists of the Graham company, including Jacqulyn Buglisi, Carol Fried, Ellen
Graff, Linda Hodes, Stuart Hodes, Pearl Lang, Peter London, Susan McGuire, Bertram
Ross, Ethel Winter, and Yuriko.
. As Dakin and Miki Orihara pointed
out, the forced retreat of Protas, who was known to banish former dancers from
the Graham entities, cleared the way for the return to the fold of dancers who
had not been welcome at the company for years.
"It's like a pilgrimage," said longtime
principal Donlin Foreman, surveying the alumni-laden lobby.
As soon as the program began, Stuart
Hodes found himself "crying like a baby," his glasses fogging up. If the dancers
in the audience couldn't help but be impressed with the moment of the occasion,
it was obvious from their heightened intensity that those on stage felt, as Protas
successor Janet Eilber put it, "the weight of the evening." "This is either the
first step of the future, or..." Eilber trailed off, reluctant to note the alternative
scenario, that Protas could always be declared the winner and the work that is
their legacy snatched from the dancers. "I can feel that they're hyper-intense
tonight," she intuited, quickly adding that this did not affect the performance
quality. "I'd like for them to be able to have a long run."
The potential for a long run was
precisely what executive director Marvin Preston IV, who many have credited for
the Graham Center's amazing financial resiliency in a time of uncertainty about
its future, hoped to achieve last night. "We wanted to show the world that this
stuff still exists," Preston said after the performance. "These dances haven't
been lost; dancers are learning them; and we are determined to carry out our mission
to sustain Martha Graham's art and build upon it." The inclusion of not just veterans
but also members of the junior company the Martha Graham Ensemble, as well as
students at the Graham school, was meant to demonstrate, Preston said, that the
work is being "passed on to the next generation," and that "we have a deep bench."
And a deep team all around. "We
have a strong, generous, and tenacious board," board chairman Francis Mason told
the audience before the second act, also crediting the contributions of Preston
and "dancers who believe we're on course and who are doing everything they can
to assist the cause. We have the support of remarkably generous and talented attorneys.
We have the support of city, state, and federal government." In addition to funding
support, the state has intervened in the Protas lawsuit on the side of the defendant
Graham Center. (State attorney general Eliot Spitzer has been represented at trial
in Federal District Court in Manhattan by assistant AGs Barbara Quint and Marla
Speaking to the Dance Insider after
the performance, and noting that some had commented that the program was too serious,
Mason pointed out, "Women don't have enough art [portraying] the serious side
of women....'Night Journey' is a heavy piece of work, but not for this crowd.
This is an audience of serious persons, and they know Martha can be serious as
well as fun."
Martha herself was present offstage
last night in both her serious and fun sides. "I can remember Martha sitting in
the wings," Orihara shared. "First wing on the right side. I remember her presence."
Sophie Maslow, whose recollections
of Graham go back 70 years to when she danced for Martha in her first decade of
making dances, was asked what Graham might think of last night's event. "I don't
think she'd give a damn, if you want to know!" Maslow shot back.
Not content with this surmise, the
Dance Insider cornered Martha during the second intermission and pressed her on
her feelings on seeing the return of her work to the stage. "Ask Terry Capucilli,"
Graham, a.k.a. choreographer Mark Dendy, told the DI in an exclusive interview.
"I've possessed her body tonight."
Martha Graham, freed temporarily
from the restraints of courtroom battles, possessed many bodies on and off the
stage last night.
Said actor and former Graham student
Tony Randall: "It was exactly as I remember it."
The Martha Graham Dance Company
gives a two-week season opening next January at the Joyce Theater in New York.
The Martha Graham Center returns to Graham's old facilities at 316 East 63rd Street
in September. Testimony in Protas's lawsuit wrapped up in Federal District Court
in Lower Manhattan last week; Judge Cedarbaum is expected to render her legal
opinion over who owns the works of Martha Graham within two months.
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