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Chevalier de la Barre, 9-4: Dumb & Dumber; Smart
Protas Lawyer Puts Slipper in Mouth; Just Some of the Facts at the Times; Ulrich Exits Chronicle; Kickoff Booted from Dance Magazine; Morris Gets his Vigor Back with Faith; Caspersen Does Deneuve; Dakin Floats with Graham; Zimmer Processes and Produces

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2002 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- Good morning from France, dance insider, where I am trying to make my French look as dumb as possible so I don't get placed in the advanced beginner's section of Welfare French. (I may know the difference between "Oh lah lah" and "Ooh lah lah," but I still can't understand "What is it that you want?") Speaking of lessons, did Judd Burstein, lawyer du jour for "Seraphic Dialogue" owner Ron Protas, learn everything he knows about dance from his client? I can't find any other explanation for the gaffe contained in Burstein's reaction, quoted in the New York Times Monday, to the recent federal court ruling that except for 'Seraphic,' Protas doesn't own any other Graham dances:

"In essence," Burstein told the Times's Jennifer Dunning, "the court concluded that Martha Graham was nothing more than a hired hand of the foundation that had been created to serve her needs. Other choreographers should be quaking in their slippers over what this case can mean to their right to control their artistic legacy."

I don't know whether any living choreographers are quaking at the judge's decision that most of the Graham dances still extant belong to the Graham Center that employed her, but the mother of all Modern Dance choreographers must be rolling in her grave at Mr. Burstein's inference that she wore slippers -- or anything else on her Modern feet -- when she created her dances.

Speaking of spinning, the Times continues to stand by its man Protas, notwithstanding that federal judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, after four careful months of deliberation, concluded that it's the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance which owns the copyrights to 45 of the 70 still tenable Graham dances, and can also produce unchallenged an additional 19 dances either clearly or possibly in the public domain.

Granted, Ms. Dunning's story cites Paul Taylor as firmly supporting the judge's decision. But when it comes to biased journalism, the devil is often in the (omitted) details. Ms. Dunning writes:

"Charles Reinhart, co-director with Stephanie Reinhart of the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., is also troubled by the decision. Mr. Reinhart recalled a conversation with a prominent choreographer who was elated by the ruling. 'I asked her if she realized the implications for her,' Mr. Reinhart said. 'Say the American Dance Festival gives her a huge amount of money for a commission. She wants to leave it to her son, but we say, 'Wait a minute, that belongs to us.' Is everything work for hire?"

And I say: Wait a minute! Isn't this the same Charles Reinhart whose same American Dance Festival the Graham company was scheduled to open two years ago when it suddenly suspended operations and cancelled the engagement with about a month's notice, leaving the ADF and its directors in the lurch? Is it too much to suppose that Mr. Reinhart might have been -- justifiably -- more than a little miffed at being stiffed by the Graham Center? Whether this history colors his judgment or not is not for me to say, but Ms. Dunning should have included this episode and let the Times's readers judge for themselves whether Mr. Reinhart is an objective source of authority on this question. As well, of course, there's a difference between a commissioner of ballets such as the ADF and an employer of choreographers such as the Graham Center -- similar to the distinction between a Times staffer like Ms. Dunning, whose work for the paper it owns in perpetuity, and a freelancer, to whose work it relinquishes exclusive rights two weeks after publication.

Speaking of relinquishing, the San Francisco Chronicle recently granted a buy-out to dance critic Allan Ulrich, depriving readers of Baghdad by the Bay's only daily newspaper of authoritative dance criticism. Like any of us, Alan has his critical blind spots -- no more and certainly less than moi -- but he was the only of the Chronicle's two critics with a sure grasp of dance history, and the only with the vivid critical vocabulary that dance criticism requires and that dance artists deserve. (For an example, please click here.)

Now, before last Friday, I was all set to introduce the above item with the quip: "While the Chronicle just got dumber, Dance Magazine just got smarter," reporting that by hiring Alan to fill in for another editor while she's on maternity leave, DM had its most authoritative and and respected news editor since Joe Mazo passed away in 1995. But then the magazine went and did the dumbest thing it's done since it moved out of New York, giving the heave-ho to Richard Philp's Kickoff column after more than 13 years.

Kickoff graced the opening pages of the magazine for more than 13 years, starting shortly after Richard succeeded William Como as editor-in-chief in 1989, 19 years after Richard was made managing editor by then-publisher Jean Gordon. (Disclosure: Richard hired me in 1995, and fired me in 1997.) For many years, Richard fought against odds that would have daunted many another strong man and woman to maintain the magazine's high quality and its role as the publication of record for the dance industry.

Unless you worked at Dance Magazine, particularly under the ownership regime that followed Jean Gordon, I don't think you can completely understand what Richard endured every day in his efforts to make a magazine that in the depth and authority of its content and the presentation of its art reflected the depth and beauty of the field we were writing about, dance. Richard was the hero. Even as the magazine continued to erode -- a process accelerated when the owners moved it out of New York, effectively jettisoning most of the quality staff that Richard had brought together -- Richard stayed on. When they removed him as editor-in-chief in 1999, he continued to write Kickoff. In addition, his mere name on the masthead as "executive editor" retarded if not the magazine's qualitative descent, than the awareness of that descent among some in the profession. His column, together with the limited (in number) contributions of dance artist and critic Wendy Perron and the column of Clive Barnes, were just about the only claims the magazine had left to any authority in the dance world.

Two weeks ago, according to a reliable source, the magazine told Richard that his column would be terminated after the December issue. His name will reportedly remain on the magazine's masthead. (Contacted in New York State by telephone Friday, Mr. Philp declined to comment at this time.)

"Dance Magazine" does not automatically confer on its owners prestige, authority, respect or a place at the table in the civilized dance world because of its name. It's the staff which always made the magazine. It's the staff which gave the magazine credibility. And let's be clear: With all respect to the sincere and talented Ms. Perron and the deservedly esteemed Mr. Barnes, by letting go of Richard Philp's Kickoff column the magazine has now relinquished its last claim to credibility in the dance world. Indeed, far from its once lauded role as the standard-bearer for the dance world, the magazine's current owners and its current publisher and editor have betrayed the profession. It is this fact -- more than any personal gripes -- which upsets me and, I believe, many others who used to work there and, under Richard's guidance, fought the good fight, not for personal gain but because we thought the dance world deserved a publication driven more by love for the field than commercial interests.

In April 1997, in a typically wide-ranging Kickoff column that ranged from extracting heavy-weight issues for the field from a dance competition (Lausanne) to championing the recently striking members of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Richard closed with this prophetic reflection:

"Things happen, people burn out, life leaves us behind -- all tough on the egos of people used to being at the center of things. But behavior that shows disrespect for others in the profession -- if not for the profession itself -- is what the symposium in Lausanne warned against. This is a great new time full of potential for dance, and we must go forward together. Hardened self-interest satisfies only temporary personal needs, while serving the needs of the larger dance world ensures, we hope, that it will be around for a long time to come."

Richard Philp will go forward, leaving Dance Magazine in what Scott Fitzgerald once called "the dustbin of history." What a shame, and shame, shame, shame on the magazine's inheritors for destroying their -- and our -- legacy.

Speaking of legacies, we've been sharing the reaction of leading members of the Graham community to the aforementioned return of their legacy to them. Christine Dakin, longtime legendary principal dancer and, with Terese Capucilli, co-artistic coordinator, writes in from Mexico:

"I am really floating in the joy. With this cloud lifted, it seems possible to see the enormous expanse of things the Company and Center can now do to make Martha's work seen again. To have her dancers dancing again. And to present her work in this new era, in some new and different ways that show its scope : Her relation to composers, set designers, to literature, art.

"I am finishing up my work here, in Mexico, choreographing and teaching. When I received the news on Friday night (Aug. 23), I went into the company rehearsal and in some kind of altered state of hysteria told them we had won. Many other companies of dancers, and of course the enormous world public has been so much a part of this struggle that it was wonderful to immediately share it with dancers who are part of that public. There will be time later to celebrate with the MG company. The best of which will be when we begin rehearsal for the Joyce season in January." We asked Ms. Dakin which of the many Graham dances now affirmed as belonging to the company she would like to see revived:

"Until I talk with Terese and (executive director) Marvin (Preston) more in detail, I really could only mention a few of the most obvious great works that we would plan to bring back into the rep: 'Primitive Mysteries,' 'Every Soul is a Circus,' 'Phaedra,' 'Deaths and Entrances,' 'Cortege of Eagles,' 'Owl and the Pussycat.' There are others, very little known, that we have plans to revive little by little by tapping the experiences and knowledge of the dancers who were part of their creation and are a fascinating link to some of Martha's development of the material in later dances."

We also asked Ms. Dakin if she had any memories of working with MG that she cared to share.

"Lots of memories: of working with MG on 'Tangled Night,' carrying the heaviest, longest staff there was, learning to bourree endless hours. Learning 'O Thou Desire' in hotel rooms and music practice rooms on tour and finally performing it at Covent Garden witn Bert Terborg. Watching Martha's joy and fun in making 'Owl and the Pussycat' -- an original dolphin/mermaid I was. Working with Martha and latter Liza Minelli to learn the Emily speaking in 'Letter to the World.'"

Speaking of the World, in French that translates as "Le Monde," and the Paris newspaper of that name made a whopper of a boner last week in its report on William Forsythe's decision to resign from the Ballett Frankfurt in 2004. Here's the correction, which ran on the paper's editorial page and which I'll leave in French because it's funner:

"DANSE: Contrairement a ce que nous avons ecrit dans l'article 'William Forsythe abandonne la direction du Ballet de Francfort' (Le Monde 29 aout), la porchaine creation du choregraphe a Francfort, le 11 septembre, n'aura rien a voir avec les attentats contre le World Trade Center. 'Il s'agit uniquement d'un hasard du calendrier,' nous a precise Mechtild Ruhl, sa collaboratrice."

Speaking of boners (hey, I'm just quoting from the press release -- please don't make me touch the rock again, Mr. Burstein!), that's what Mark Morris says he got while watching the performatrice Faith Pilger, guerilla host of the Vim Variety Show. That's what Faith (also an occasional contributor to the DI) claims anyway (exact quote: "Wow, I just got a boner."). If you want to test that statement's veracity, your own vigor, or just put some vim back into your life, check Faith and company this Friday at 10 p.m., when the VVS returns to Surf Reality's House of Urban Savages, 172 Allen Street, 2nd floor, between Allen and Rivington. In addition to Mistress of Multimedia Faith, the line-up includes Henry Faulkner, Belgian starlet of song Micheline, human beat box Adam Matta, and chanteur provocateur Mr. Kam. The F or V trains get you there, and calling 212-673-4182 makes sure you have a spot.

Speaking of William Forsythe, French institutions (Le Monde) and of vim, Catherine Deneuve will be interpreted by goddess of vim Dana Caspersen when the Ballett Frankfurt brings Forsythe's 2000 Kammer/Kammer to the Theatre National de Chaillot here, September 25 to 28, as part of the Festival d'Automne a Paris. For more info on the festival, which also features the new Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker duet "Small Hands" and other dance attractions, please click here.

Speaking of process-servers (de Keersmaeker), a while back we asked for your input on the question: Dance -- Process or Product? Most perspicacious answer comes from my opposite in verbosity Elizabeth Zimmer, senior editor at the Village Voice, who needed only the subject line of her e-mail to declare: "Dance is a product which, because of its fragile, flesh-and-blood nature, is not reproducible and is always in process. So there."

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