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Graham Center Wins Key Ruling

Dance* An appeals court says the center can continue using the late choreographer's name, despite her heir's objection.

July 04, 2002|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Upholding a ruling that allows the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance to continue using Graham's name and teaching her modern dance technique at its New York City school, a federal appeals court affirmed Tuesday what it called "Graham's intention to give her name to the Center as long as the Center existed."

"We believe this is a very important decision," the dance center's executive director, Marvin Preston, said by phone on Wednesday. "It removes any constraints regarding the use of the name regarding educational, fund-raising and performance purposes."

Graham died in 1991 and designated her assistant Ron Protas as her heir. But after nearly a decade of increasing hostility between Protas and the center, he was voted off the board and removed as artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company early in 2000.

The center closed the company and school shortly afterward, citing insurmountable financial difficulties, but it reopened the school under the Graham name in January 2001.

Protas then filed a trademark infringement suit against the center and its newly reconstituted school, saying he had the sole rights to the name and the Graham technique. U.S. District Judge Miriam Cedarbaum ruled against Protas in August. Protas appealed that decision to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Wednesday, Judd Burstein, lawyer for Protas and his Martha Graham Trust, said the latest decision will be appealed. "We are asking for a new hearing and going to the Supreme Court," he said.

Protas also has another suit against the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance awaiting a decision from Cedarbaum. In it he claims that he is sole owner of Graham's choreography. A ruling on the matter is expected this summer.

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