Hard times hobble legendary Martha Graham dance troupe

January 16, 1991|By Jody Leader | Jody Leader,Los Angeles Daily News

Ron Protas bristles when asked about the financial state of the Martha Graham Dance Company, of which he is associate artistic director.

It's not his favorite topic.

"It's a bad climate to raise money in," said Mr. Protas from the Graham company offices in New York. "We had a $1.4 million deficit last year. We've cut it to $850,000."

The current state of the economy -- recession or no recession -- has hit the arts hard and dance companies the hardest. Ticket sales are down. Contributions are down.

Never mind that the Graham company, one of the oldest modern-dance troupes in the country, is led by a 96-year-old national living treasure. Dire fiscal straits visit the legendary and the obscure alike.

In early 1990, the company laid off all but six dancers for two months. Ms. Graham sold three Isamu Noguchi pieces to raise money for the company. The company performed without a live orchestra in New York last October. And the company has started licensing Ms. Graham's works. Negotiations are under way with the Royal Danish Ballet, La Scala and Cleveland-San Jose ballets to have those companies dance Graham works, something the modern dance innovator hadn't allowed in the past.

"The money is being used to subsidize the company," Mr. Protas said. "We haven't signed contracts yet, but we're also in negotiations with a company in Japan to license some of her costume designs to an active-wear clothing company."

Mr. Protas said the company is also consciously avoiding bookings that lose money.

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