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News & Analysis, 7-8: Representing
Graham Signs with Shagan and Re-ups with Pesle
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2003 The Dance Insider
In the latest chapter
in its resurrection, the Martha Graham Dance Company took a giant
step towards its return to full-throttle touring Monday when it
announced it would be represented everywhere but Europe and Japan
by Rena Shagan Associates, the singular management and booking agency
that thinks big for its clients without sacrificing the personal
touch. In Europe, the company signed with its long-time booker and
the dean of European agents, Benedicte Pesle, and his partner Julie
George. And in Japan, it announced, touring will be handled by Kate
Elliot, the energetic producer who shepherded the company's return
to the stage as it secured ownership of most of the Graham ballets
in a lengthy
"(Shagan) is a high-integrity,
extremely well-experienced person with a sound collection of collaborators,"
Marvin Preston, executive director of the Graham Center, told the
Dance Insider. "We have the utmost confidence in her and only wish
that we had been able to seek out and establish a relationship with
her sooner. I have an excellent feeling that Rena will actually
surprise us by outperforming even our most optimistic hopes for
At RSA, the Graham company
immediately becomes the star attraction of an eclectic roster that
also includes, among US artists, Garth Fagan, Hubbard Street Dance,
Stephen Petronio, Ballet Hispanico and the Houston Ballet. Shagan
also books US tours for the Ballett Frankfurt, Ballets Preljocaj,
and Sydney Dance Company.
Shagan, a no-nonsense
booker whose agency has been around for nearly a quarter of a century,
wasted no time in framing how she would represent the company. "The
Martha Graham Company is the seminal modern dance company, and we
are proud to be part of (its) much-deserved return to international
The Graham company's
given prominence as the progenitor of the modern field doesn't mean
touring engagements are a given. Aggressive representation is rare
in dance and, with big companies, agents are often content to sit
back in expectation the bookings will come. Effective agents realize
that, even for companies whose name-awareness extends beyond the
cloistered dance world, presenters still need to be educated and
cultivated. To regain its stability and its stature, and keep its
24 dancers (also represented, by the American Guild of Music Artists)
employed, the company needs representation that will be active,
cultivating new presenters and rebuilding relationships with former
presenting partners still wary after years of instability in which
the company seems to have spent more time in the legal theater than
the dance arena. Presenters who might not have followed the court
battle with a former director over ownership of the Graham name,
technique, and ballets will still need to be educated that the company
is no longer in court and fully owns most of the surviving ballets.
Theaters and audiences less familiar with Graham -- yes, they exist
-- may even need to be convinced that the Graham oeuvre is not just
"seminal" or "important" but vital, not just "modern" but contemporary.
Shagan, part of a handful
of smart, authoritative agents (Jane Herman, Jodi Kaplan, World
Arts, and Elsie Management complete this rarified circle) has the
moxie and respect among presenters to put the company back on its
touring feet in the US.
Abroad, the task will
be even more staggering. Just as reports of an earthquake seem worse
the more removed one is from the epicenter, presenters in Europe
are likely to think the company is still in court. After the agent
has informed them this is not the case, he or she will face an evening
more daunting task: Convincing them the work still matters. With
the absence of a living, breathing version of Graham on its shores,
Europe -- or at least dance audiences in France -- have come to
equate Graham with just the type of outmoded, literal, non-obscure
and non-chic dance they have no use for.
To re-establish the
company in Europe, the Graham center has started by re-signing Julie
George and the legendary Benedicte Pesle, the company's long-time
representative in Europe. The center couldn't have picked a better
team; for the past forty years, Pesle has also been the European
representative for the most popular American company in France:
Merce Cunningham's. (As reported earlier in these pages, the center
scored a coupe when it hired Pesle protege David Pini away from
the Cunningham company as its new touring manager. Another Pesle
pupil, Therese Barbanelle, handles another of the handful of US
artists who have been able to establish some presence in France
-- Trisha Brown.)
"I have dealt with Benedicte
and Julie since the moment that I arrived at Graham," said Preston.
"These are wonderfully patient, good-natured, caring, fair-minded
and resilient people who have stuck with us through thick and thin.
I would like nothing better than to make them exceedingly wealthy
by virtue of them booking us everywhere imaginable in greater Europe."
In Japan, for which
Preston hinted at "some long range " plans, the company will be
represented by Kate Elliot, who acquitted herself so well producing
the company's splashy returns at City Center in May 2002 and at
the Joyce this past winter. Gary Lindsey will represent the junior
company, the Martha Graham Ensemble.
Special thanks to dance insider JB for background on the European
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