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    Step By Step: Preserving Choreographic Legacies

    What is a dance, when it's not being performed? Who owns it? How should it—can it—be preserved?

    I plan to explore the difficulties associated with the transfer of dances from one generation to the next. This transfer is uniquely complicated. Dance has no canonized form of documentation (with the possible exception of Labanotation, which isn't known widely enough to be useful in most cases), and dancers are generally encouraged to develop their own interpretations of choreographers' steps—meaning that performances of a work can vary widely. When a choreographer is still alive, he is able to shape and endorse the way his work is performed. But after his death, choreographic legacies are singularly challenging to maintain. And now that a choreographer's body of work has become a definable commodity, with each dance an item to be copyrighted and licensed, the way dances are preserved is critically important.

    The choreographic legacy issue was brought to light recently by the legal battle over Martha Graham's dances. Graham, who died in 1991, bequeathed her work to Ron Protas, her designated successor. But in 2001 the Martha Graham Center claimed that it owned the rights to Graham's dances—that they weren't hers to give away—and in ongoing litigation, the courts have generally agreed, saying that she choreographed most of her dances as "works for hire."

    This new idea of dance as property to be copyrighted is shocking and a little scary, particularly to choreographers, who almost universally assumed they owned the dances they created. The fallout from the Graham case has been a panicked rush to define, in concrete legal terms, what steps belong to whom—a delicate process, and an uncomfortable one. I'd like to articulate the specific difficulties inherent to the copyrighting procedure when it involves an art form characterized by its transience. It's easy to understand what it means to posses a painting—it's an item. But how do you itemize a dance?

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    Highlighted Work:
  • Brooklyn Rail - Edwin Denby
  • Dance Magazine Review - Ballet Builders
  • Brooklyn Rail Review - Gallim Dance
  • Diana Vishneva at City Center: A Review