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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.
Season 2 of World of Dance is almost here! The new season officially kicks off on Tuesday on NBC, and it's bringing a whole new crew of talented dancers with it (plus, some old favorites). Dance pro judges Jennifer Lopez, Derek Hough and Ne-Yo are back, too, with Jenna Dewan serving as the show's host.
Obviously we'll be watching, but just in case you're not completely sold, here's why you're not going to want to miss out:
JLo Might Be Performing
Earlier this week, JLo (who serves as the show's executive producer) posted this insane promo clip to her Instagram. Dancing to a mashup of Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow" and her new single "Dinero," JLo reminded us all of her dance skills while also leading us to believe she might just hit the stage herself for a performance.
Travis Wall draws inspiration from dancers Tate McCrae, Timmy Blankenship and more.
One often-overlooked relationship that exists in dance is the relationship between choreographer and muse. Recently two-time Emmy Award Winner Travis Wall opened up about his experience working with dancers he considers to be his muses.
"My muses in choreography have evolved over the years," says Wall. "When I'm creating on Shaping Sound, our company members, my friends, are my muses. But at this current stage of my career, I'm definitely inspired by new, fresh talent."
Wall adds, "I'm so inspired by this new generation of dancers. Their teachers have done such incredible jobs, and I've seen these kids grown up. For many of them, I've had a hand in their exposure to choreography."
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.
Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!
Now through Monday, Danskin's site will automatically take 25% off your entire purchase at checkout. Even new items like their Pintuck Detail Floral Print Sports Bra and Pintuck Detail Legging (pictured here) are fair game.
"The sun may be shining brightly, but we are not in a very sunny mood today!" said New York State assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal during yesterday's rally for the Artists of Ailey.
The dancers and stage crew are demanding increased wages and more comprehensive benefits, what they have termed "reaching for the standard" and "fair wages."
Pain is an inevitable part of a dancing life and dancers have a high tolerance for it, according to Sean Gallagher, a New York physical therapist whose practice includes many professional performers. "So when dancers complain, it really means something," he says.
But women and men experience pain differently, and tend to be treated for it differently as well. Female dancers need to understand those differences before they go to a doctor, so they can make sure they get treated promptly and effectively.
Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she'd been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.
But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica's history.
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.