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 Analysis, 8-27: Deaths and Entrances
Graham, Resuscitated Again

"Her repertory, however, was not in reality hers alone to save or destroy; it represented a joint fabrication involving the life effort and devotion of many people. If the dancers had given her their youth, it was with the understanding that she should be the immaculate guardian of their dreams, and that she would be their warranty that they had not thrown their lives away. She therefore had not the right to jettison all at will, no matter how deeply she felt, and although it was born of her inspiration and the product of her genius, bearing the hallmark of her name, there was a moral obligation involved. Too many people had also worked too long.... Martha's repertory was in great part a communal achievement like a cathedral."

--Agnes de Mille, "Martha." (New York: Random House, 1991.)

"The tools for Graham's choreographic works were also provided by the defendants. The creation of the dances was a collaborative process in which the Center's employees played an indispensable role. Janet Eilber, a principal dancer at the Dance Company, testified credibly that Graham 'choreographed on' dancers employed by the Center. Linda Hodes testified credibly that while she was a dancer with the Dance Company, her salary was paid by the Center."

--Federal Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, ruling for the Defendants Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, Inc., and Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, in the suit brought against them by Ronald J. Protas, August 23, 2002.

"I am very excited for the Company's new beginning. And I am very proud that we stood for what we believed in -- especially after the May performance, which made me realize how much I love it and I that I have such a great time dancing Martha's ballets. I am glad that I did not quit dancing. Though it was close."

--Miki Orihara, Principal Dancer, the Martha Graham Dance Company, August 26, 2002.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

One day in 1968, a young man named Ronald Protas fetched an oxygen tank for a critically ill Martha Graham in a gesture that simultaneously helped save the life of the mother of Modern Dance, and planted the seeds for the slow asphyxiation of her life's work. This past Friday, for the second time in 34 years, Martha Graham was resuscitated -- this time by a federal judge's ruling that her center and company, not Mr. Protas, own most of the ballets she created on it, with it, because of it and for it. By Monday, it was clear that the Martha Graham Dance Company was starting to breathe freely again.

"I feel Elated and daunted," said former Graham principal Janet Eilber. "Elated because we finally have the possibility of moving ahead without the destructive undertow that has been slowly killing us for 25 years. Daunted because there is so much ground to recover. He has done so much damage. For example, here it is 11 years after Martha's death and we are only now able to truly wrestle what our identity will be without her!"

But there is much to remind the current dancers of the Graham company -- who will negotiate a new contract in the next thirty days before returning to the studio in October to rehearse for a Joyce season opening in January -- of who they, keepers of the Graham flame, are. It is there in the bodies and minds and, yes, blood memories of Graham dancers past and present of Graham's dances, of which the company will now be able to perform all but one of the 70 still performable.

"...We know that through the bodies of the dancers who have kept it alive and will continue to keep it alive, Martha's vibrant repertory of work will continue to live on the stage," said Terese Capucilli, principal dancer and, along with Christine Dakin, the company's co-artistic coordinator.

"It would be wonderful in the following years to bring back to the stage some of those dances that have not been seen in a while," Capucilli told the Dance Insider. Ballets that I had the opportunity to dance, with Martha's coaching, that are large in scope and bring so many different elements of Martha's theater into play:. 'Every Soul is a Circus' and 'The Owl and the Pussycat' with their wonderful comedic wit, which so few people realize Martha had; 'Cortege of Eagles,' with its unveiling of decades of Greek drama in less than 40 minutes; 'Letter to the World,' which incorporates the poetry of Emily Dickenson; 'Deaths and Entrances,' about the mysterious Bronte sisters. The hope of course would be to have live music for all."

"They all have deep and affecting memories for us," said Eilber of the 45 dances to which Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbum confirmed the Graham Center owned copyrights, the 10 dances in the public domain and 9 other dances possibly in the public domain which the company can also perform without contest, and the five dances which belong to other organizations friendly to the Graham Center. "From dancing the premiere of 'Frescoes' within the ancient stones of the Temple of Dendur at the Met, to -- well, you don't have space for my memoirs; I'll keep it down to one.

"It was one of my first performances of 'Embattled Garden.' I was playing Lilith. I have a picture in my mind of Bertram Ross as Adam, the archetype alpha male. The two of us were posed while others were dancing. He was standing all the way across the stage staring at me, his back lifted, chin lowered, eyes narrowed with an unwavering look that was literally electric. I could feel it physically pushing against me, willing me to react, to push back. That moment opened to me all the possibilities of Martha's theater. It contained everything; artistry, energy, control, self possession, and power. And he didn't move a muscle. I was a different dancer after that performance."

For Capucilli, learning the role of The Principal Sister in "Deaths and Entrances" -- a role originated by Graham, with Jane Dudley and Sophie Maslow as the other sisters -- stands out.

"I and everyone else in the cast spent weeks and hours in the studio learning our roles before the rehearsal period (and our salaries) began," Capucilli recalls. "I remember being in studio 2 of Martha's building at 316 East 63rd Street until 10 p.m. every night writing down every step, studying the ballet and getting all those steps into my body. The ballet is 50 minutes long and my character leaves the stage only once for less than two minutes, so there are al ot of steps to learn! The amazing thing was that on the VERY first day of the rehearsal period with Martha in studio 1, the music went on and we didn't stop dancing until we had run through the entire dance. Usually it would take weeks to get to that point. Martha sat through the entire piece, her neck long and extended, her head darting back and forth across the studio following all the action and sat there in awe when we finished. Her eyes opened wide, 'Well.....!!!!!,' was all she could say. Of course, after recovering, she had plenty to say!"

Stuart Hodes, Graham's legendary partner and current dean of the Graham School, echoed Capucilli in recalling Martha's unheralded comic side. Of a 1947 performance of "Every Soul is a Circus," in Atlanta, Hodes remembered: "On Martha's first comic move, half the audience laughed, whereupon the other half said 'Shhhhh!' Thereafter, not a giggle during one of the funniest dances ever made!"

Hodes also expressed hope that the "lyrically stunning" 1954 "Ardent Song" could be reconstructed, as well as the 1950 "Eye of Anguish," of which he commented; "One of Martha's 'failures,' and yet, could it be reconstructed, I believe it would be a revelation."

One revelation in talking to Graham dancers is the care she gave to making sure the dances were passed down correctly, down to the bodies of every corps dancer.

"My first performance of Martha Graham's work," recounts current principal Miki Orihara, "was 'Primitive Mysteries,' when I was in the Martha Graham Ensemble," the second company."In the Ensemble, we performed many of Martha Graham's works which the Company was dancing at the same time. Of course, our dancing was not at the same level as the Company, but we had a unity feeling in the group and I guess we were pretty good, in that almost everybody from that time got into the Company.

"Martha Graham loved to come to the Ensemble's rehearsals. Even though we were not in the Company yet, she coached us individually. Also, we were involved with the revival of old pieces -- 'Heretic,' 'Every Soul is a Circus,' and 'Canticle for Innocent Comedians' especially. Martha Graham herself was very involved in the revivals, with Yuriko."

Of course, the memories of dancers past and the bodies of dancers present have always been available to Martha Graham, for more than 75 years. What hasn't always been there is the means to realize the dances in sustained seasons. For Marvin Preston, the executive director who, with board chair Francis Mason, has defended the center against the siege by its former director, Friday's ruling not immediately opens up two possibilities for much-needed income.

First, contributors who were not inclined to consider donating to the center while its future was in doubt will now be more open to funding a company with some 69 dances available. Second, the 45 dances for which the center is now confirmed as owning the copyrights present a potential new stream of licensing revenue, Preston said. Historically, he explained, "The Graham organization prior to Protas's licensing of things for all practical purposes didn't license. Outside of the Graham organization, Graham dances were not performed. Martha herself felt like she needed ten years to create a Graham dancer sufficiently well-versed in the technique to do the dances right....Over the organization's entire life, it's never had an outside source of revenue deriving from royalties pertaining to ownernship of the dances." While the Graham board will carefully deliberate whether to pursue this additional revenue stream, at least, said Preston, "That's possible now.... There's a long-term opportunity to create a piece of our revenue from royalties. That possibility effectively didn't exist until now. It broadens our range...."

For Protas, meanwhile, the revenue streams may be headed South. In addition to the $241,000, including interest, the Judge ruled he owes the Graham Center, Center attorney Katherine Forrest, of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, told the Dance Insider that she intends to exercise her right as the prevailing party, under copyright law, to seek recovery of attorneys' fees from Protas. The amount sought, she said, would be above six figures.

"We are extremely pleased with the Court's decision," said Forrest. "It's a well-reasoned, extremely thorough opinion, that we believe will be upheld on any appeal. It confirms what the center has been saying, that Martha Graham intended that the center and the dance company continue to be able to dance and have the rights to dance her work into perpetuity. We're thrilled that the January 2003 Joyce season can begin without any cloud over our rights."

The Dance Insider has made numerous attempts to contact Protas -- through his publicist, assistant, attorney, and directly through e-mail -- to ascertain whether he will appeal and to get his side of the story. In response to these requests, Protas attorney Judd Burnstein responded Monday, via e-mail to this reporter:

"I make it a practice not to waste my time speaking to biased purported journalists. I have instructed my client that his time is also too valuable to spend talking to you. I will be happy to speak with you once you affiliate yourself with a real publication, thereby perhaps binding you to the norms of objectivity expected of legitimate journalists. Frankly, as far as I can tell, you put your hand on a rock one day, and stated: 'I am a journalist.' I think more is required."

After receiving Mr. Burstein's reply, which included Mr. Protas's direct e-mail address, we e-mailed him our questions directly Monday. By presstime, we had not received a response. The floor remains open.

To read Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum's Opinion, please click here. You will need Acrobat Reader to be able to open the document, which is in PDF format.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home