Frederic Franklin (1914-2013)
By Sascha Radetsky
Franklin with Danilova in Giselle. Photo by Constantine, DM Archives.
A clip from the 2005 documentary Ballets Russes shows Frederic Franklin, as the Sultan in the ballet Scheherazade, leaping from the top of a staircase onto the stage. Despite the distance of his fall, Freddie executes a landing the envy of any gymnast or feline, springs to his feet, and continues cavorting gleefully. He never skips a beat and betrays no fear, exuding only joy. It is essential Freddie, compressed into an eight-second clip of film. This one-of-a-kind vitality and sincerity rendered him a beloved presence in the ballet world well past his ninth decade of life.
Freddie helped carve out a place for dance in America, and for male dance in particular. I imagine him as a Johnny Appleseed of ballet, sowing its seeds wherever he ranged. Born in Liverpool, England, Freddie—like many of us—was the only boy in his ballet classes. As a teenager, he danced in London musicals and in Josephine Baker's Paris cabaret. He eventually joined Leonide Massine's Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, where he forged an iconic stage partnership with Alexandra Danilova. As danseur noble with the company, Freddie performed over 45 leading roles, and worked with legendary choreographers such as Massine, George Balanchine, Michel Fokine, Bronislava Nijinska, Frederick Ashton, Ruth Page, and Agnes de Mille—who described her original Champion Roper (of Rodeo) as “strong as a mustang, as sudden, as direct, and as inexhaustible."
When war erupted in Europe in 1939, Freddie and the Ballet Russe sailed for America. After navigating German naval mines for 14 days, their ship arrived in New York City, and that same evening the troupe performed to great ovations at the Metropolitan Opera House. In between New York seasons, they roamed the nation, presenting ballet to small-town crowds new to the art form. The company's glamour and growing fame soon swept it west to Hollywood, where several Ballet Russe dancers, including Freddie, starred in feature films.
In addition to being a first-rate dancer and partner, Freddie was a ballet master, director, coach, choreographer, and artistic advisor. He and ballerina Mia Slavenska briefly formed the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet, a company that performed, among other repertoire, modern dancer Valerie Bettis' well-received adaptation of Tennessee Williams' “A Streetcar Named Desire." Freddie co-directed The Washington Ballet and helped found the short-lived but critically acclaimed National Ballet in Washington. He assisted young companies like Cincinnati Ballet, Oakland Ballet, Tulsa Ballet, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, staging ballets and shaping their repertoires. He staged several Giselles, including a version for Dance Theatre of Harlem set in New Orleans. He recreated Fokine ballets such as Scheherazade and Polovtsian Dances, works otherwise rarely seen outside of Russia. He also staged American Ballet Theatre's current production of Coppélia.
Freddie sparkled with energy, and until the age of 95, he appeared in character roles with ABT and other companies, often drawing lengthy applause from audiences that recognized him as the biggest star on any stage. His many honors, including a 1985 Dance Magazine Award and the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire, could not have come to a humbler artist.
Behind Freddie's smiling blue eyes surged an expansive yet lucid memory. He witnessed the Great Depression, two world wars, the women's and civil rights movements, the Space Race, and the Cold War. And even in this era of iPhones and intergalactic telescopes, he seemed able to recall everything. (He indulged in a nightly Gatorade-and-vodka, and we wondered if that tasty potion, when fused with the molecules of his organism, synthesized into the Fountain of Youth.)
Freddie was a rare artist and a bona-fide dance pioneer, but he was something still more impressive: a once-in-a-generation human being. He looked at life in a positive light, and could align others—at least momentarily—to this worldview with just a greeting, anecdote, or embrace. He could cheer a young dancer disappointed with a performance, compel the overly serious choreographer to smile, or elicit laughter from the most temperamental ballet star. Freddie's warmth could thaw even the coolest substance.
Utterly devoted to William Ausman, his partner of 48 years, Freddie not only showed us how to dance and how to treat others; he showed us how to love, deeply. Although he has now taken the ultimate leap, his effect on those of us who knew him is indelible. In a way, this enlightened man fortified our faith in humanity, as one Freddie Franklin among us could balance out an army of inferiors. Yes, there is darkness in this world. Then again, our Freddie lived in it too.
Sascha Radetsky, a soloist at ABT, was a principal dancer with Dutch National Ballet from 2008 to 2010.
Franklin demonstrating the Bartender while staging Ruth Page's Frankie and Johnny for Cincinatti Ballet in 1980. Photo by Sandy Underwood, DM Archives.
See more photos of Franklin from the DM Archive at www.dancemedia.com/v/8382.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT