Janet Eilber, artistic director-designate at the Martha Graham Dance Company, spoke from her home in Los Angeles, explaining the deadlock that has resulted in the closing of the company and its affiliated school. “The board [of directors] became aware in no uncertain terms that the organization would not receive ongoing funding until Ron Protas [Graham’s legal heir and director of the company since her death in 1991] made a visible and substantial step away. He has not been willing to do that.
“I would like Ron to take credit for what he’s set in motion. He set up the [Martha Graham] Trust; he negotiated and finalized a licensing agreement with the center that allows the company to perform the ballets for a dollar a year. But this all took much longer than it should have, and we lost a lot of momentum. As the time came for me to take over, it became difficult for Ron, and he began narrowing the parameters of my job. Back in February, when the board tried to speed up the pace of the transition by asking him to step aside, Ron reacted as if it were a coup d’état and dug his heels in. After a tempestuous board meeting I called him and said, ‘This idea of your stepping aside is what you’ve been working toward; let’s try to approach it in a positive way.’ He threatened me, saying that unless I faxed him a letter of support denouncing the board’s action immediately, I would never work for Martha Graham again. At the next board meeting he carried out that threat, calling my artistic qualifications into question, discrediting me.
“Until they closed the doors last week I was ready to be principal artistic adviser, to make sure that the artistic transition was smooth. I hoped Ron would understand that he could work with me, and allow the licensing agreement to go forward. But he couldn’t make that one last sacrifice for Martha, and they’ve had to close the doors because they’ve run out of money. American Dance Festival director Charlie Reinhart and I spoke Memorial Day weekend; I suggested that he produce the performances to open the festival. But the dancers voted against it because Ron had become involved; they gave up a paycheck and four performances because they wanted to support the board’s actions. They know we need new direction, before Martha’s legacy disappears.”