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Spotlight: Frederic Franklin

Today's Spotlight Saturday focuses on a dancer who is one of my personal favourites... Frederic Franklin.

As the lead in Agnes de Mille's 'Rodeo'

Frederic Franklin, also known as Freddie, was born on 13 June 1914, in Liverpool, England. He was the oldest of the three children of Fred and Mabel Franklin. Freddie later remembered that his parents took him to see the film Peter Pan as a small child; immediately he decided his future would be on the stage.

He began dance lessons at the age of 6. He danced in his first public performance that same year, and was given a box of chocolates as a reward. He remembered thinking, 'Well, if I go out there and dance and get a box of chocolates every time, I don't mind doing this again.'

His professional career was initially very bumpy. He auditioned for Anna Pavlova's company and was accepted, but this fell through when the famous ballerina suddenly died in 1931. He went to London and joined a troupe called the Lancashire Lads, later the Jackson Boys. They went to France and performed at the Casino de Paris with such stars as Josephine Baker. Also a talented musician, Freddie accompanied Mistinguett, a French singer, on the piano.

As the lead in Leonide Massine's 'Rouge et Noir'

But he didn't stay very long. He returned to London and joined the Markova-Dolin company, where he encountered innovative choreographer Bronislava Nijinska. While partnering Alicia Markova, he caught the eye of Leonide Massine. Massine was the choreographer/ballet master for the newly formed Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

With Alexandra Danilova in 'Giselle'

Freddie quickly rose through the ranks at the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a combination of his talent and the sudden lack of male dancers brought on by the Second World War. During the war era, the company toured all over America. Freddie formed a famous partnership with Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova, also known as Choura. He also danced with ballerinas such as Irina Baronova, Alicia Alonso and Maria Tallchief.

Freddie and Choura were most famous in the Massine ballets Le Beau Danube and Gaite Parisienne. During the war years, the company filmed a short version of Gaite Parisienne for Warner Bros. According to some accounts, during his years with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo Freddie created around 45 lead roles. He appeared in the first performances of George Balanchine's Danses Concertantes and Agnes de Mille's Rodeo. He was also the company's ballet master from 1944, after Massine left the company.

Rehearsing outside at Jacob's Pillow with Alexandra Danilova

After leaving the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1952, Freddie created the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet with fellow Ballet Russe dancer Mia Slavenska. They staged the first production of A Streetcar Named Desire, but the company folded due to lack of financing. Afterwards, he co-directed the Washington Ballet, and co-founded and directed the National Ballet of Washington.

As the Golden Slave in Michel Fokine's 'Scheherazade', with Jeanette Lauret as Zobeide

Freddie then became a freelancer, travelling throughout the USA and working with various regional companies. Famous for his sharp memory, he worked to revive and stage the works that he had danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He was particularly good with the early works of George Balanchine, many of which were previously lost. In 2002 he succeeded in restaging part of Sir Frederick Ashton's ballet Devil's Holiday. The ballet was created in 1939 and had never been revived; Ashton never saw it performed.

With Alexandra Danilova in 'The Nutcracker'

He also worked as an advisor to the Dance Theatre of Harlem. For them he staged a new version of Giselle, set in the Louisiana bayous among the Creoles. The ballet is now a classic of the company. He attended several Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo reunions, one of which was filmed as a documentary. Freddie appears in it many times, displaying his kindness, wit, and impeccable memory. When asked if he was still able to dance, the near ninety year old joked, 'A pas de bas would kill me, and a plie hurts.'

Demonstrating the role of the Bartender in Ruth Page's 'Frankie and Johnny' for Cincinnati Ballet, 1980

Despite this, he continued to perform character roles with American Ballet Theatre well into his nineties. He was notable as Madge the Witch in La Sylphide, Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, and Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker. He received the Bessie Award for lifetime achievement, among other awards, and was made a CBE in 2004. He died of pneumonia in New York on 4 May, 2013, aged 98. He is survived by William Haywood Ausman, his partner of 48 years, and by his brother, John Franklin.

Thanks for reading! Next week the Spotlight will be on Pierina Legnani.

- Selene

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