The Miracle of Freddie Franklin

September 28, 2009

At 95, Freddie sits tall, blue eyes sparking. His buoyant energy seems to rise up from his spine. At the Fall for Dance “DanceTalk” last Wednesday, this living treasure of ballet bubbled with enthusiasm. A link to the past, he had seen Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in its last year—1929, when he was 15—and remembered what ballets he saw: Fokine’s Les Sylphides, Massine’s Tricorne (Three-Cornered Hat), and Aurora’s Wedding. He “fell madly in love with Danilova” when she danced Aurora (though that may have been at another performance). Nine years later, he was dancing with her, a partnership that lasted 20 years.


During this talk, which was focused on the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo during the Massine period, Freddie had many stories. He recalled that Massine’s rehearsals were “in Russian, or very bad French.” It was up to Freddie to cast and schedule rehearsals for 14 ballets at a time, and I swear he looks like he could still handle it.


At right: Photo of Eleanor d’Antuono, Freddie Franklin, and Raven Wilkinson by Joseph Rodman, Courtesy Fall for Dance


Eleanor d’Antuono, also in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, said, “I watched Freddie every single night from the wings. I learned about relating to people onstage, about finishing steps, from Freddie. I learned that you had to make it work: there were no excuses.” She had joined in the mid-50s, around the same time as Raven Wilkinson, the third panelist in this lively conversation. Raven, the first African American professional ballet dancer, said, “We learned how to present ourselves, the essence of style.” About the constant touring, she said, “We were exhausted. We’d sleep in the bus and then go do makeup and barre.”


Eleanor described working with Massine: “His steps didn’t have names; they moved all over the floor.” But later Freddie told how Massine was meticulous about getting them to do glissade. At which point Robert Greskovic, who was moderating, said, “So, some of the steps did have names.”


It was all great fun, including seeing clips of Freddie and Raven in the wonderful movie Ballets Russes, and slides of Eleanor as a young ballerina. Just seeing the slides or film and having Freddie sitting there commenting, “Lovely!” was a wonderful feeling.


The last FFD “DanceTalk” takes place this Saturday, Oct. 3, at City Center. I will be moderating a panel on the influence of the Ballets Russes on todays choreographers. Mark Dendy, Nicholas Leichter, Virginia Johnson, Basil Twist, and Robert Johnson are the speakers. See