By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-FaunĂ©
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
A living legend doesnt usually blush when praised, laugh about past blunders, or recall saying Oh my goodness me! when first informed that Queen Elizabeth was going to make him a Commander of the British Empire. Nor do dancers usually live long enough to say, Its not bad being 93-and-a-half! And even if they did, its doubtful that theyd still appear onstage, as Frederick Franklin doesplaying Friar Laurence in American Ballet Theatres production of Romeo and Juliet, Madge the witch in La Sylphide (a very demanding role), and the Princes tutor in Swan Lake. Franklins long career may be attributed to good genes, but also to his prodigious memory, his wit, and his immense capacity for happiness.
There was plenty of praise flying at the program titled American Ballet TheatreAn Evening with Frederick Franklin and moderated by Wes Chapman, an ABT ballet master and former principal dancer with the company. The presentation was one of a number of enriching events in the Guggenheims ongoing Works & Process series. Leslie Norton, who has recently published a biography of Franklin, spoke admiringly about him. Georgina Parkinson, a ballet mistress at ABT, said that Freddie wasnt just a ray of the sun; he was the sun (Franklin got very pink and laughed in embarrassment). It was reported that when ABT principal David Hallberg was asked backstage why he had agreed to learnand perform for this occasion with fellow principal Julie Kenta pas de deux from Léonide Massines Gaité Parisienne that Franklin originated in 1938 with Alexandra Danilova, Hallberg said, Anything for Freddie.
Lively reminiscences, slides, archival film clips, and excerpts from the film Ballets Russes were interspersed with live performances: Kent and Hallberg also performed a duet from Balanchines Mozartiana (Franklin had seen the ballet in London in 1933 and danced in the 1945 production for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo). He appeared delighted with the live performance of the Czardas from Coppelia, which he had staged for members of ABT II (there was some especially lovely dancing by a sprite named Isadora Loyola), and he got up on stage to demonstrate his coaching techniques on students at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, to whom hed also taught an excerpt from Coppelia.
Frederick Franklin, during the discussion part of the Works & Process evening devoted to him
photo: Rosalie OConnor
One of the first roles he learned with that company was that of the Baron in Gaité Parisienne, in which he partnered Alexandra Danilova13 years his senior, glamorous, sophisticated, and initially dubious about this 24-year-old Brit. She, after all, had been trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg; he had seen her perform with Serge Diaghilevs Ballets Russes in 1929; shed been George Balanchines lover. Franklin and Danilova ended up dancing the Baron and the Glove Seller in Gaité Parisienne for 20 years and were paired in numerous other ballets. Thinking back on Gaité years later, Jerome Robbins wrote, No one has ever danced a waltz like Freddie and Shura or were more in love, or lived a more idyllic life than at the moment they came on from the wings, her arm across his shoulder and behind his head. . . Even old black-and-white footage of the ballet, shot clandestinely during a performance, conveys the magic those two conjured up onstage.
The projected photographs and films also revealed Franklins versatility. Here he is in cowboy duds as the Roper in Agnes De Milles Rodeo! Here he is be-wigged, booted, and mustachioed in Massines Russian-legend ballet Bogatyri! Here he is jumping with marvelous élan in a clip from Igor Schwezoffs version of The Red Poppy!
Christine Wright, who teaches at 890 Broadway, where ABT has its headquarters, once told me that whenever Franklin gets into the elevator there, he chats with whomever he chances run into during his brief ride, as if the two of them were friends. Lovely! is a word he uses often, and lovely is most certainly a word others apply freely to this modest, greatly gifted man, when they recount how much he has contributed in the way of inspiration and knowledge to colleagues, students, audiences, and the history of an art form.