Court Preserves Martha Graham Dance Legacy

Attorney General Spitzer today hailed a recent federal court ruling clearing the way for the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance to continue to operate according to the wishes of the legendary dancer.

"Every New Yorker has a stake in ensuring that these two great cultural institutions continue to flourish," said Spitzer, who intervened in the case to protect the New York-based organizations. "As a result of this ruling, Martha Graham's legacy in dance will be preserved as a public trust."

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, of the Southern District of New York, denied a request by Ms. Graham's heir to enjoin the use of the Graham name by the dance school and performance company. After serving as a director of the two organizations for many years, the heir, Ronald Protas, suddenly sued to enjoin the dance school and performance company from doing business under the names Graham gave them decades earlier. Protas registered the trademarks - "Martha Graham" and "Martha Graham Technique" - in his own name, and took other steps to profit from the legacy.

In an opinion released earlier this month, Judge Cedarbaum rejected Protas' claim and said he had violated state charities law by acting in ways contrary to the interests of the non-profit corporations he was obligated to serve. The judge ruled that Graham had fully intended that the charities would survive beyond her death, teaching her technique and presenting her dances.

"Ms. Graham obtained crucial public support for her creative enterprise by forming corporations that could take advantage of tax exempt, tax-deductible treatment. It is important that the public also receive the benefit of this bargain, so that her great achievements can be perpetuated by the charities she founded," Spitzer said.

The parties are due back in court on September 14, when proceedings will begin to resolve the remaining issues in the case, including copyright ownership of Graham dance works and various claims and counterclaims.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Marla G. Simpson, Barbara L. Quint and Charles H. Smith, III, of the Charities Bureau, under the supervision of bureau chief William Josephson. The charities are represented by Dale M. Cendali, of O'Melveny & Myers, and the individual directors of the charities (who were also named by Protas in the suit) are represented by Victor A. Kovner, of Davis, Wright & Tremaine.


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