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Martha Graham Center And School Win Decision To Retain Use Of Martha Graham's Name; Federal Judge Dismisses All Trademark Infringement Claims In Lawsuit By Graham's Heir Ron Protas

NEW YORK CITY, NY -- In what the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, called "a sweeping victory", Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum for the Federal District Court of the Southern District of New York dismissed all trademark infringement claims in the lawsuit brought against the organizations by Graham's heir, Ron Protas. The judge affirmed the right of the Center and School to continue using Graham's name and teaching Graham's technique as they have for approximately 50 years.

The decision is an "important victory not just for the Center and the School, but for the legacy of Martha Graham and the dance world in general," pointed out Dale M. Cendali of O'Melveny & Myers, LLP, which led trial counsel for the Martha Graham Center and Martha Graham School.

"Graham dance is of the earth, but right now we are dancing on air! Like being inside a suffocating cloud, suddenly to be breathing pure oxygen!" said Stuart Hodes, Head of School, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. "Dancers take class because that's what dancers do, but now that we can speak our name -- Martha Graham dancers! -- once more, we want to dance for audiences, for the world."

In January, Ron Protas, to whom Martha Graham willed her works and licenses, had filed suit against the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance. The suit sought to enjoin the Graham Center from using the names "Martha Graham" or "Martha Graham Technique".

In her opinion, Judge Cedarbaum found that Protas "misled" the United States trademark office. In order to obtain trademarks, he represented that the Graham Center and Graham School only used Martha Graham's name by virtue of an oral license from Graham which as her heir, he had the right to revoke. The Court found "no credible evidence" that such a license ever existed. Instead, the Court found that Martha Graham had permanently assigned rights to her name to the organizations when they were incorporated at her behest in 1948 and 1956 respectively as not-for-profit corporations.

In so holding, Judge Cedarbaum expressly "found Protas not to be a credible witness." She also found that Protas breached his fiduciary duty as a member of the Board of both the Graham Center and Graham School and as one of its major employees, by registering in his own name trademarks adverse to the interests of organizations to which he owed a duty of loyalty.

Martha Graham intended that the Center and School continue after her death and that Protas' actions were "undermining" Martha Graham's arrangements, the decision emphasized.

The Court is expected to decide other aspects of the case in the year ahead, including whether Protas has the exclusive rights Graham's dances and whether he owes the Center and School financial compensation for his conduct.

"The court victory lets us call ourselves by our rightful name, earned in more than half a century of work with Martha Graham herself," Stuart Hodes emphasized to Arts Wire. "But it does not deal with Graham's choreography. So for now we will dance works by those who spring from the same soil, dances by Jane Dudley, Jean Erdman, Robert Cohan, Nina Fonaroff, May O'Donnell, Pearl Lang, Sophie Maslow, and Bertram Ross, to name a few whose works we will seek. And of course there will be new voices."

Hodes added that "Our educational troupe, the Martha Graham Ensemble, will perform in Cape May, New Jersey on October 18th, dances by Linda Hodes, Virginie Mecene and Kenneth Topping, among others, to continue thus until the day when the Martha Graham Company can once more dance Martha Graham's dances, and a cultural treasure is restored to its rightful place in the world."

Martha Graham, one of the leading dancers and choreographers in the twentieth century, created approximately 181 ballets with sharp, angular, highly emotional movements that are very distinct from classical ballet. Her company was the training ground for contemporary choreographers Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp.

"The dance world was forever altered by Martha Graham's vision, which continues to be a source of inspiration for new generations of dance and theatre artists," the Center states.

Sources/resources:

United States District Court Southern District of New York "The Martha Graham School and Dance Foundation, Inc. and Ronald a. Protas, individually and as trustee of the Martha Graham Trust vs Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, inc., Martha Graham School of Contemporary Cance, inc. -- http://www.nysd.uscourts.gov/courtweb/pdf/D02NYSC/01-08492.PDF

STUART HODES, Head of School, the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, danced with Martha from 1947 through 1959, taught on and off in the School for the next 35-plus years. He was Martha's partner in dances like APPALACHIAN SPRING, DEATHS AND ENTRANCES, ERRAND INTO THE MAZE, and others. He also formed a young audience company, The Ballet team, which performed widely in the 60's and headed dance at NYU School of the Arts (now Tisch) from 1972-84. He presently performs with his wife, Elizabeth, in cabaret-style shows -- "also with anyone foolish enough to ask me." He will be performing at OK Harris gallery during DANCENOWFEST 2OO1.

"Protas v. Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance"
Arts Wire CURRENT-- http://www.artswire.org/current/2001/cur052901.html
May 29, 2001


Arts Wire is a service mark of the New York Foundation for the Arts.

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