Frederic Franklin

Artistic Director Emeritus
of the Cincinnati Ballet

Frederic Franklin in Rodeo as a Young Man
Photo by Tom Buck
At a reception in Cincinnati in November of 1979

During the 2002/2003 season Frederic Franklin will be honored by the Cincinnati Ballet as he celebrates his 70th year as a dancer.

He is continuing a long and memorable relationship with the Cincinnati Ballet which began in 1974 when he staged scenes in the Company's first NUTCRACKER. A decade later in 1984, Franklin served for two years as Cincinnati Ballet's acting artistic director, bringing to life many masterful productions in the Ballet Russe style.

Frederic Franklin was born in Liverpool, England, in 1914, and his interest in the theater started when his family took him to see Peter Pan. When he got home he jumped on his bed trying to fly. To get him out of the way his mother took him to Mrs. Kelly's dancing school. Mrs. Kelly told Frederic's mother that he was gifted and gave him a scholarship. Later he went to another teacher that would whack students with a cane. At the age of ten he took two years off to do what other boys that age were doing.

In 1929 Diaghilev's Ballets Russes came to Liverpool. He was impressed with Alexandra Danilova, Serge Lifar and Leon Woizikovsky. Franklin fell in love with Danilova and hung her picture over his bed. When he went to London he continued to study with Lydia Kyasht, a former dancer from the Maryinsky. She had toured with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in the United States. Franklin also studied with Nicolai Legat, and in Paris he had classes with Lubov Egorova, and his hero, Anton Dolin.

Franklin made his debut at Casino de Paris, in a show starring Josephine Baker, in 1931. Back in London he danced in music halls, cabarets and any place he could make some money. In 1935 his big break came when he joined the Markova-Dolin Ballet Company. Literally, he has never been out of the dance world since then.

Franklin joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as premier danseur at the request of Leonide Massine in 1938, becoming ballet master in 1944. He has partnered every great ballerina: Danilova, Alicia Markova, Mia Slavenska, Tamara Toumanova, Irina Baronova, Moira Shearer, Yvette Chauviré, Rosella Hightower, Maria Tallchief, Alicia Alonzo and many more. While with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Franklin danced 45 principal roles -- from pure classical to many character roles, such as the champion roper in Agnes de Mille's Rodeo.

Freddie continued his classes with such teachers as Alexandra Fedorova, Felia Doubrovska and as he has said, "that terrible stern taskmaster, Anatole Oboukhoff; they all were killers."

As a teacher he tells his students, "It's wonderful. You come to class, you get dressed and go home. Stay behind and work. It's what you do for yourself after the teacher has taught you."

It was like a dream come true when he first partnered Danilova, the ballerina he had seen dance with the Ballets Russes and had fallen in love with. Every night before falling asleep he saw her picture over his bed. Danilova said to him, "Young man, if you are going to dance with me, you must know where my curves are." During the rehearsal she said, "Young man, I'll hook on to you." Franklin said, "No matter what we were doing Danilova would drape herself around me and hook. And we were fine."

In 1952 Franklin and ballerina Mia Slavenska formed the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet Company (see pictures at the bottom of the page). They invited Valerie Bettis to choreograph a ballet based on the successful Broadway Show A Streetcar Named Desire. This ballet became one of the most important works to come out of this union.

Working with George Balanchine, Franklin says, " In those days, Balanchine was more concerned with the acting."

"Dancing his ballets like Baiser de la Fille, it required a lot of acting. Later in his career Mr. 'B' would say, 'Don't bother about the acting. Just listen to the music and dance.' All his steps came out of him through the music. The music was terribly important to him. He didn't want any expression. The dancing was enough. That was Balanchine."

In talking about other choreographers Freddie quotes Bronislava Nijinska as saying, "Good dancer, I make Russian dancer out of Franklin -- he good boy."

Frederick Ashton told him, "Freddie, now listen, stop the mannerisms. Don't dance like Anton Dolin. Be yourself. Don't dance like this one -- don't dance like that one. Just dance like yourself. When I saw Frederic Franklin dance he was dancing like himself."

As to Mr. Franklin's feelings on the current state of dance, he said, "The Ballet needs choreographers. Can you name a major American choreographer? I can't. I believe the future of companies and dancers depends on new works and first-rate choreographers. The Royal Ballet just did a new production of Sleeping Beauty. How many times can you see La Bayadere or Swan Lake. That's all they do. They're in a mess, too."

"In the past, Massine would do four ballets a year. Nijinska would do two or three. Look at Mr. B.'s ballets came out of him like sausages. It's regrettable because there are wonderful dancers capable of doing all kinds of things. They're crying out for roles."

When Franklin is asked why he doesn't retire -- his answer is, "On what?" He said, "As long as people want me to stage works and teach classes, I'll do it. I don't think I'll ever really stop."

Throughout his career, Franklin has served in a variety of capacities with prestigious companies like American Ballet Theatre, the National Ballet, La Scala Opera Ballet, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Franklin's awards and honors are numerous including the 30th Annual Dance Magazine Award, the Laurence Olivier Award, and the coveted Capezio Dance Award in 1992. Also that year, Cincinnati Ballet honored Franklin upon the occasion of his 60th year in dance. In appreciation for his service to the Company, Mr. Franklin has been named Cincinnati Ballet's Artistic Director Emeritus.

Slavenska & Franklin

Mia Slavenska and Frederic Franklin with
the Slavenska Franklin Ballet circa 1952

Frederic Franklin with the
Slavenska Franklin Ballet circa 1952

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