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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.
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.