By Walter Rutledge
From the Horse’s Mouth performed their three-day, three performance run from Friday, May 30 through Sunday, June 1 at the Pace University’s Michael Schimmel Center For The Arts. The series celebrated the life and career of Frederic Franklin. It was not only a fitting tribute to a dance legend, but also a joyous homage to a life well lived.
The gala performance on Friday, May 30th featured a cast of over 45 dancers, commentators and contributors. The cast included living dance legends Jacques d’Amboise, Eleanor D’Antuono, Carmen de Lavallade, Arthur Mitchell, Gus Solomons jr and Martine Van Hamel; established artists Arthur Aviles, Germaul Barnes, Jason Samuels, Vernon Scott and Xiomara Reyes; artists on the rise Steven Melendez, Jacoby Pruitt and Trent Kawalik, and dance aficionados, preservationists and literati Mindy Aloff, Jack Anderson, George Dorris, Deborah Jowitt and Nancy Reynolds. In the production’s unique and sometimes quirky format artists shared personal anecdotes and historical commentary accompanied by dance, a maximum of four dancers per section.
The evening had a slightly different twist from past productions, which are an evening of individual personal anecdotes. This year focused on one artist and became an informative and insightful look into the life of Franklin who influenced five generations of dancers. The evening spanned his humble beginnings as the youngest member of an all male chorus in Paris dancing for Josephine Baker, through performing Friar Laurence in ABT’s Romeo and Juliet shortly before his death at age 98.
Franklin is best remembered as a premiere danseur, with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (from 1938 through 1952). He later built a sound reputation as a coach and teacher as he revived ballets for countless companies. He also became renowned for his ability to remember ballets, some which would have been lost forever.
Film clips of Franklin were dispersed throughout the production. They revealed a humble, and self-effacing man, who realized it wasn’t about him, it was about dance. Even in this nineties Franklin’s eyes retained a childlike twinkle. He relished in the past, and at the same time was excited about the present state of the art.
Tina Croll and James Cunningham created a winning format with this production. This tribute to Frederic Franklin was both entertaining and educational. It presented a humanistic, and historically loving account of one of dance’s most endearing figures.
The performance ended with Franklin on the screen telling us how much he loved dance and the people who make it happen. With a smile on his impish face, it was clear his greatness extended beyond just humility to included gratitude. He loved what he did and was always grateful for the opportunity to do it.
Get well soon Wale.