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NY Times: 6/9/05

Troubled Graham Troupe Retools

An administrative "streamlining," as the leadership called it last week, left no room for the artistic directors, Christine Dakin and Terese Capucilli, who were universally credited with bringing the company back to life. The move has caused some members of the company to take sides, and confused others.

"I don't know why they fired the ladies," said Martha Clarke, who choreographed a piece for the company this season and became a friend of Ms. Dakin. "It's crazy; the dancing is really good now."

The two took the unusual step, on June 2, of publicly denouncing what they called their termination.

"We feel as though everything has been stolen from us, and at the same time our hearts have been ripped out of our bodies," Ms. Capucilli said in an interview. She said the reorganization plan would compromise artistic quality by weakening the direction and training of the dancers. Their ouster was announced to the two on May 19, days after they objected to the plan as threatening their gains and offered an alternative plan, Ms. Capucilli said.

Ms. Eilber, Ms. Dakin and Ms. Capucilli all joined the company in the 1970's, working personally with Graham. By some accounts they were professional rivals. Ms. Dakin, in an interview, acknowledged that Ms. Eilber's artistic vision clashed with hers and Ms. Capucilli's.

I've always wondered about the Graham company's ability to persist after Graham was gone... Is it a museum or a dance company? Is it's only a curatorial situation, how will it attract dancers of a high enough caliber to keep the performances valid... and if it's a dance company, how can it add to it's repertory without losing Graham's artistic vision?

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Amy

The troubles besetting Graham's company of this ilk, were going on at deeper levels even before Graham died and Protas assumed his tyrannical destruction of her legacy.

Bertram Ross's willing exile from the company came about when Linda Hodes was named rehearsal director and proceeded to reset the dances made on Ross on the newer generations in her own image of what they were. She would change them despite Ross's protestations.

The problem with genius such as Graham's is that it attracts moths to its flame. Moths which apart from a talent within a specific branch of the art feed off that genius and insinuate themselves into the life of that genius. Thereby gaining custodian status.

In De Mille's brilliant biography of Graham she tells the defining moment when Protas became indispensible to Graham. Lying almost dead in hospital she couldn't breathe, Protas was there to give her oxygen, he being the only person there at the time. Altough this was a regular occurrence with Graham at this stage of her illness and indeed Takako Asakawa had been in a similar situation to revive Graham when she was unconcious, Graham was concious at the time of Protas' intervention and to De Mille this signified the moment Protas became her everything.

With a floating behmoth such as the Graham company and it's legacy it's open season for every one who had been a part of that legacy to demand the right to steer it forwards. The sad thing is the true creative and artisitic geniuses who were a part of that legacy don't have the talent for politics many of the lesser lights assumed in order gain influence.

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With a floating behmoth such as the Graham company and it's legacy it's open season for every one who had been a part of that legacy to demand the right to steer it forwards. The sad thing is the true creative and artisitic geniuses who were a part of that legacy don't have the talent for politics many of the lesser lights assumed in order gain influence.

My fear is that legacy is fast fading away... dance is so very ephemeral, so very youthful that if the works aren't being performed as they should be, very soon it is all forgotten and somehow films (in spite of our best efforts) don't seem to keep the flame very well... There has to be that magic of the live theater to inspire the next generation's commitment. Even the best films, don't, I don't think, give the viewers that visceral experience where one almost tenses up along with the performer on stage (though films do allow those of us who can't afford prime seats a good view of world class performers we would otherwise only understand from the upper balconies). I was so in favor of White Oak's committment to performing that earlier repetoire!

But how can a $5 Million budget for a single modern company be floated? Ballet companies seem better structured for that sort of thing. Any thoughts?

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I've always wondered about the Graham company's ability to persist after Graham was gone... Is it a museum or a dance company?  Is it's only a curatorial situation, how will it attract dancers of a high enough caliber to keep the performances valid... and if it's a dance company, how can it add to it's repertory without losing Graham's artistic vision?

I certainly don't have the answer, but Judith Jamison seems to. Anyone who saw Alvin Ailey's company during his lifetime and today would instantly recognize it as the same artistic entity. It acquires new works, remains true to the old, and is thriving to the degree that it was able to purchase a lot of prime Manhattan real estate and build its own studios. If Jamison wrote a how-to manual for second-generation artistitc directors (limited market, of course), she'd be giving the modern dance world a great resource.

Perhaps the Ailey company's good health is due in large part to the fact that many choreographers were represented in the rep, making it slightly less a monument to one person's glorification (and I don't doubt that in Martha's mind, that's what her company became, at least after a while). Perhaps, too, Martha's very long life span allowed her to maintain her iron grip for too long. And of course, there's the Protas disgrace.

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Another source of inspiration would be Carla Maxwell and the tremendous job she and her associates have done with the Limon Dance Company.

In addition to preserving and reconstructing the core repertories of Jose Limon and Doris Humphrey, she's functioned as a modern dance conservator by preserving the works of choreographers like Donald McKayle and Daniel Nagrin while adding other dances, new and old, to the repertory.

The company is also on a much sounder financial and organizational footing now than it ever was under Limon. Probably the only missing piece to the puzzle is that the LDC hasn't found the kind of Medici-like patron that the Ailey Company has found in Joan Weill.

Perhaps the reason the Limon and Ailey companies have achieved "survival after death" (33 years in the case of the former and 16 years (?) in the case of the latter) is that they were true repertory companies (or at least the embryos of ones) while the founders were alive. Since they were never dependent on one choreographers work to feed the company, they had an easier time branching out once the founders were gone.

Of course, this begs the question of where the Graham company goes from here if the company is so rooted in the Graham technique, style and all-around reverence of Martha that the company can't branch out. Food for thought . . .

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I recall something written by Yvonne Rainer on the subject of Graham:

"In the case of Graham it is hardly possible to relate her work to anything outside of theatre, since it was usually dramatic and psychological necessity that determined it"

This I think is the crux of the problem in keeping her legacy alive. Graham's output was no more prolific than Cunningham, Taylor, Limon, Humphrey but it was one rooted in a unique theatrical form, which was determined by her own physicality which by its unique morphology translanted with difficulty and sadly found its apogee of creative life within Graham's own stage career from the late 30s to late 60s at best.

The light she created had begun to dim long before she was forced into retirement, moreover it was a light which shone with the intensity of her own ego. And we really have to consider ego in a positive way in as much as her ego was fierce and great enough to reshape the world in her image.

Unlike the other great choreographers whose work was inspired outside of themselves, whose masterpieces have a life outside of their performing careers and whose companies were created to be as such companies Graham's creative world was egocentric, the works were. I remember an old adage I read where David Wood and certain company members were debating where the centre of the stage was, finally Wood asked Graham where it was, was it the centre, downstage right, etc to which she replied "The centre of the stage is wherever I am"

Humorous as this may well sound, it boded ill for the continuing legacy of her work - do you truly think that someone as solipsistic as Graham would or could have trusted a man as self-serving and manipulative as Protas during her heyday? Had he walked into her studio during the 30s or 40s she would have spat him out whole. The question of what happens now with this company? What future does it have? Was raised long before Graham died.

I have not seen the company for several years, more in fact, and the company I saw was nothing compared to the one I saw on a NY junket during the 60s. I saw Pheadre and even in her much diminished capacity the elderly Graham was riveting - but I do remember thinking this work is meaningless without this woman. Other works fared better, I saw Diversion of Angels with Bertram Ross, Wood, Ethel Winter, Helen McGhee and Mary Hinkson - beautiful, but the dancers were immersed in the world of theatre that Rainer speaks of.

Perhaps the Graham company has no future. The company I saw seven years ago was very much like the Royal Ballet dancing Balanchine - a pale imitation of life. A pastiche of theatre.

Edited by Kate Lennard
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This I think is the crux of the problem in keeping her legacy alive. Graham's output was no more prolific than Cunningham, Taylor, Limon, Humphrey but it was one rooted in a unique theatrical form, which was determined by her own physicality which by its unique morphology translanted with difficulty and sadly found its apogee of creative life within Graham's own stage career from the late 30s to late 60s at best.

Actually, I think this "unique theatrical form" is perhaps less endangered than some other modern dance forms because the Graham technique was so clearly and distinctly defined... like ballet, there was a very clear ideal to be reached for... very exacting... very demanding... no muddling about acceptable... so much like Vaganova that I think Ballet-to-Graham is an easy mental training transition for a dancer... (of course the physical differences are another story)

Perhaps the Graham company has no future. The company I saw seven years ago was very much like the Royal Ballet dancing Balanchine - a pale imitation of life. A pastiche of theatre.

The company I saw a few years ago oddly enough reminded me more of a regional ballet company than the Graham company or even another modern company.... the sharpness and dynamic thrust was missing... the dancers were physically competent but lacked that edge... they somehow looked too stable or too balanced to communicate the energy properly.

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When the company danced here this spring, I thought they looked very strong -- and very dedicated, believing in what they were dancing. People much more familiar with the company over the years generally agreed -- there was new life there.

There's an open letter to the dance world from the two fired directors on Dance Insider that (very judiciously, IMHO) gives their side of things, and a blistering editorial on the front page by the site's editor, Paul Ben Itzhak, who has been covering the Graham story during the Protas lawsuit and aftermath. Those interested in the siituation at Graham may want to keep checking that site.

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I've seen the company on tour since the resolution of the court case, and thought they looked excellent -- very strong, and very much working in the tradition of the style. This new development makes me sad, as much for us and our access to this unique body of work as well as for the company and the school. If nothing else, this is an extremely awkward situation -- I'm stunned that it's come to this with Francis Mason at the head. He is much more skillful than this hullabaloo would lead you to think.

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