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It’s such a privilege to hear Freddie Franklin talk about his decades of dance experience—he is 95!—that I decided to write it down for those of you who missed his talk at the Guggenheim Works & Process program last night. It’s not only the memories of greats like Massine (which he pronounces the Russian way—Myassine), Danilova, Markova. It’s the wit that he says them with, the crispness, the surprise endings to sentences. It’s such fun, like bubbling champagne. His imitations of Choura (Danilova) were priceless. (For one thing, she used to call Arthur Mitchell “the Arthur.” For another thing, she was so giddily narcissistic that he makes good fun of it.)
The evening was moderated by Wes Chapman and also included Virginia Johnson, now director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, because she had danced so many ballets that Freddie staged. In between the talking dancers from ABT and ABT II performed various dances that Freddie had coached.
Here are some quotes I remember:
• When Freddie came to work with Massine: “The classes were in Russian and bad French.” He had seen Dolin and Markova in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes when he was 15 and Markova was 19. (I believe this was in 1929, the last year of Diaghilev’s life.) Nine years later, he was partnering Danilova. In between, when still a teenager, he was a chorus boy for Josephine Baker. And for someone else too, whose name I didn’t catch. But because he could play piano, he found himself playing for this aging chanteuse while she had her legs up on the piano and sang, “You Drive Me Crazy.”
• When Freddie was with Danilova, they toured a lot. Choura (Danilova) said to him, “We will go on tour and we will waltz coast to coast.” They would be on tour 4 or 5 months for one-night stands. “Not very sanitary,” said Freddie. “We had two weeks in Los Angeles, and then things finally got cleaned.”
• “I started out as a trained hoofer, and I had all that ballet training and nowhere to do it. And suddenly it all came rushing at me.”
• He told a story about subbing for Anton Dolin in Bluebird and how Alicia Markova's tutu was so huge that he couldn’t see her feet. And somehow he slipped under the tutu. He was never asked to do Bluebird again. He wanted to write a book called “Twenty Years Under the Tutu.”
• He left us with these words: “I’m eternally grateful for what I’ve been given. I had a small talent and, believe me, I stretched it so far. I absolutely loved what I was put down on the earth to do.”