Date Of Production
November 25 1985
Q: Tell me about the partnership with Danilova. It strikes me that you were her Nureyev.
A: Well, it's strange, since you put it that way; yes, it was rather like that. I think my coming into her life at that time was sort of, well, it was meant to be, I suppose, being 22-23, when I first started with her. She was then dancing with Massine -- they were Danilova and Massine -- and he was getting a little tired of her, because he wanted somebody younger. And she was feeling a little the same way as far as Massine was concerned. And this particular ballet, Gaité Parisiènne came along, and that's what really started it. But you know, as we grew older, it changed. From the very beginning, it wasn't easy for me. She said one of her first famous lines she said to me. "Now young man," she said, "now we are going to dance together. You must know where to fit in my curves." Well, I thought, "Well now that's going to be . . . that's very nice indeed!" And she said, "I go in and come out and we must fit." I thought, "Well" - my good little English upbringing thought - "well, the Russians. This is what it is." And again, I love her madly and this and that and the other.
And partnering her . . . you know, all the ballerinas are different. There are no two bodies alike. You don't hold them this way, that way; you hold them whichever way they want, or whichever way you can in order to make them look right. So this is what it was, and I had to go through a long period, and there were many moments when she'd say, "No. Push! Pull!" And when she was . . . in most difficulties she'd screech in Russian. So, I had to learn Russian in order to get through on stage with her.
We were doing one ballet, Saratoga, of Massine, and we'd learned it very quickly. And we were doing a polka together, and she was on the other side of the stage, and I looked at her, and I knew the ballet had evaporated -- it had gone from her mind. The smile was raging. She didn't know where she was. I came over and I did this and this and this, and pushed and pulled. We went through it. We got into the wings, and I spoke to her, and she gave me the business. "Don't speak to me on the stage. You this and after all this, that and the other thing; and bang, bang, bang." I'm in tears. But I saved her. But never mind, this is the Russians. So I go to the dressing room, and I find out I'm asked to go to Mme. Danilova's dressing room. So I went. And she said, "Freditchka, I'm very sorry I blow up . . . this, that and the other; so on and so forth -- Now you can call me Choura." Because it was always "Mme. Danilova" in those days. And I said, "Well, there we are!" But that was it.
And then I think she relied on me on the stage a little more. And she grew, dancing with me, and then she'd allow me to do certain things, certain nuances, certain things partnering her, with this waltz in the Gaité Parisiènne that we did together, you know, for so long. And it grew out of that. Then, I naturally became older and wiser like we spoke of before. I knew more about what I was doing on the stage dancing with her, with the Massine things. He was no longer on. And I suppose the management sort of thought, "Well, we're on to a good thing. These two go on stage and they like them, bring the house down." And they were asking for Danilova-Franklin, which was for me . . . . Here I am dancing with her, with this one lady that, when I was 14 or whatever I was, I admired. And it grew; we became friends. It was a partnership that went beyond just the theatre, and it's like it is today. We are just the same as we were. I call her. We go and see each other. But what it was on the stage. I stood in the wings with Markova and Anton Dolin and Leonide Massine and her, and I learned what to do when I saw things go wrong with them and what they did to cover up things.
I learned from her and I learned with her on the stage. She said, "You know, Freditchka, they like us because we have the same mentality about the ballet." Now, to me, that was an enormous compliment. She had been brought up in the Diaghilev era with all these marvelous people. And I thought, "Well, yes." I did have a little education in the ballet, but not, of course, what she had. And we met sort of, not only emotionally and technically, but we met in a sort of intellectual way on the stage, which doesn't generally happen with dancers, with partners, like this. So we could discuss other things.
I always remember she said to me, "You were brought up in the theatre." I said, "Well, Choura, yes." I mean as a little boy, we were taken to the pantomimes. My mother and father were very theatre-minded people. My sister and brother were taken and so was I. I grew up in the theatre. The very first thing I ever saw was Peter Pan. Well, I came home and jumped off the beds, hoping I could fly. And all that sort of business went on. But it was the theatre. I knew as a little boy. They'd say, "Well, what are you going to be?" And I said, "I'm going to be in the theatre." It was right there from the beginning with me. So it was that theatrical thing that I had in me that she had . . . and it was the personalities absolutely fused on the stage. She was wonderful. She did many things, of course. Her personality, like mine, was very bubbly. It could be very dramatic, if necessary. But the basis of that partnership was the sameness of us being together on the stage, thinking the same way, having the outgoing thing that you mentioned. Stage actors that have this . . . they walk on the stage and there's somebody there. I learned all of this, and I suppose I must have had it naturally also, or it wouldn't have come out. But that was this partnership. And now we see each other very often. We go back. She said to me one day, "Freditchka, you know, I pity the people that have to do the Gaité Parisiènne. this waltz." She said, "It took us years to perfect it. And we did it. And you see the other dancers doing it, it's hard. It's difficult." But it's that constant working, talking, everything that made it into a lovely partnership that it was, bless her heart.
Q: It must have been very difficult for her when she had to stop dancing.
A: Well, she was one of the few people that didn't come across the bridge nicely. Funny thing to say, but it was hard; it was very difficult. There wasn't anything happening in her life other than dancing. She's now found it because Mr. Balanchine asked her to go to the School [of American Ballet] here. She was not so much a teacher as a wonderful coach, and this was what she does marvelously for the girls. She teaches very well, of course, but her prime asset to that school is what she can give them as a ballerina -- a prima, you know. So they are getting the good stuff right from the word "go." But it was difficult for her.
I crossed over better. There are roles which I'm still doing that are for a dancer, a man like Dr. Coppelius, and I enjoyed doing them. Now there's a wonderful part in La Sylphide, Madge, the witch. Well. I'm now doing that. And I've got these roles and I still do that. I like performing. I still -- whenever they ask me -- I'll go on and do it, you know.
And then, I've had the ballet companies. But Choura hasn't had that. It just wasn't there for her, you know. You know, ladies didn't take over ballet companies, only men did, you see. And I think she would have been wonderful, supposing an opportunity had come along. You see, when I was the maitre de ballet, she was the prima ballerina and I was the premier danseur. But she was there. She was the top of the company as one of the ladies. So it would not have been interesting for her to come with me to go to the rehearsals, to push this, to mount ballets. Consequently, she didn't know them. She knew what she did, of course. So she hadn't got the background, like many of the dancers haven't.
You know, to be a great dancer is one thing, but to get in front of a lot of kids and start rehearsing them and manipulating them around the stage in ballets, that's something else. It's a whole new ball game, as they say, and it's another kind of talent. If you don't have it, then you're no good at it. You know you can't do it. So I was -- again touch the wood -- very fortunate that I had this, or people saw that I could do it. Which is what I'm doing today. But she's fine. She's down there. We see each other. She may be a little slow, a little hunched over, but the tongue is still the same. She still says lots of wonderful things about all the dancers. But she's fine.
Q: For yourself . . . was there a time you knew . . . specific time when you said to yourself [that you should stop dancing]?
A: Oh, yes. Now I was fortunate. I was dancing all the biggies up until I was 44. Really, the big hard roles. But I found there were nights when it was more difficult. There were nights when things didn't go well. There were nights when I thought, "I wish I'd never done that performance." And then there were other nights when I thought, "Oh, my goodness me, it's just like when I was younger." But you know, this tells you. It tells you when it's time. And it's just an awful moment, because you think, "Oh, goodness me, it's so short." I mean, I was one of the lucky ones -- 44! I mean, there's Rudolph [Nureyev], flying around. I don't know what he's doing at the minute, but he's still doing it. But you know, it shouldn't be. It shouldn't be. It's just having the sense to know, NO MORE! And I fortunately did have it. Although it was hard. Yet I had other things on my mind -- ballets, companies. You know, I just wanted to be connected and be in the theatre. I didn't want not to be . . .I didn't want to be a teacher, only.
Q: You loved performing so much.
A: Yes. Oh, yes, indeed. And that was difficult; it was hard. But then, when I had the National Ballet and I staged Coppelia. I found myself on the stage again, doing something different and finding it marvelous, as the old man [Dr. Coppelius]; marvelous things to do like I found in the ballets, like in the Gaité Parisiènne or in this, whatever I was dancing, to find new ways of doing things.
You know, when you dance a ballet like we did every night, for God knows how many years, you can't do the same thing every night. It's like for an actor or an actress. So I was finding ways. My Coppelius now is very different from what it was 12, 14, 15 years ago, when I was first doing it. So one can grow, you know, and I've never stopped growing in these roles.
It's like reviving . . . when we've done Frankie and Johnny with Ruth. I've shown this and Ruth forgot, "Oh, that. Remember you did this and I did this?" And she knew it. It's a different approach now, even the staging of the things. That was the marvelous thing with Ruth. The day I called for this ballet -- dear, dear. Oh, she was very upset. Frankie and Johnny -- 1976, right? Hadn't been in anybody's repertoire for a long time. Lotti Falk, the great president of the Pittsburgh Ballet, desperate -- 1976. We don't have an American ballet. I went home. I said, "Oh, but we do." She said, "Which one?" I said, "Frankie and Johnny." "Oooh, Freddie," she said, "It's a wonderful idea. Get on to Ruth." I got on to Ruth. Dear me, did I get it on the other end of the phone! "Oh," she said, "Freddie, why do you want to revive that old thing? I've got other ballets." I said, "Ruth dear, if you'll say Yes, we're doing it." "Well, do you remember it?" I said, "A little. What about you?" "A little," she said. "I'll come to Pittsburgh."
She arrived with big music where everything is written over in her marvelous handwriting, describing steps, like "French twist" and "two kicks to the head," not the actual names. Then we had to fathom all this out with the music. It was tea time. The more she kept looking at me, the more she looked, the worse it got. She said, "What are we doing, Freddie? We'll never get it." I said, "We'll get this right." Well, we did. We got it right. It was a big smash hit. I said, "Ruth!" She said, "Freditchka, how can I thank you?" "You don't have to thank me," I said, "Ruth, this was always a marvelous ballet." Well, it's still in existence. It's still being done, and it will be done.
And this was getting back with her . . . I'm getting it back. She went right back and she got up and did a lot of this stuff. This was -- what, 15 years ago? '76, yes. And she was different then, you know. She was able to move around, and she'd get up and show the steps and shout at the ladies who were doing her part. But she was marvelous, you know. She had that old fire. She had all of that. And she knew I had it. And as much as she cursed me at the beginning, at the end it was fine. She was having a good time. And so was I.
And then, of course, the next thing. "What do you think about Billy Sunday?" [Ruth asked.] I said, "Ruth, dear, no!" She says, "We'll do it, and you'll do the part." I said, "No! I can't -- too old. I can't skip up and down off that rostrum and preach sermons and dance all those ballets!" "So," she said, "what about putting it on?" We had a funny old movie - well, we had a funny old movie of Frankie and Johnny [too] . . . "
Q: Yes, you must. . .
A: . . . a very funny old movie -- it was done in Paris [sic] -- but no sound! So, I mean, then we had to make these steps fit the music. And sometimes it didn't work. We had a pianist, fortunately. It was very difficult to teach the kids and then say, you know, "Go look at it." They'd come back and then I'd say, "Now it's got to fit this piece of music." Then lots of stuff went on and lots of choreographic changes -- not too much. But we did it eventually. But with Billy this was really something else, because we had to have a new score.
Q: Start again with Billy. Start with the first . . . .
A: Beginning with Billy . . . .
Q: Start with the first Billy, and then we'll go back and we'll do the revival . . .
A: Now, which is it, 1948? This time Miss Page . . . . When Miss Page arrived we always knew we were in for something, which was lovely. By the way, the girls in the company adored Ruth Page, apart from as the choreographer, because she dressed so well. They'd always invite her to dress with them. The next thing I'd hear would be [whispered], "She's got Dior." They'd never, never seen dresses by Dior. They'd go look at the labels of all her clothes.
And this was the beginning. Then she said, "Now, Freditchka" -- this is the first rehearsal -- "here is your script." I said, "Ruth, what are these?" She said, "This is what you'll say in my ballet." I said, "I'm going to talk?" "Well," she said, "of course. Did you know who Billy Sunday was?" I said, "I've never heard of this gentleman." Well, then she gave me the script.
Now, we're on the road, mind you. We're doing the one-night stands. So, I learned my script. I learned all my business, and she described the ballet -- risqué again. I said, "Well, Ruth, here we go!" And she said, "Well, you know, when I'm here, this is the way it's going to be. Now," she said, "you've got to have a Middle West accent." I said, "Well, all right." So she absolutely coached me and: "Temptation is the devil . . . " and all that came out; my first big speech.
It was a marvelous ballet. With Ruthanna [Boris] again. She was Bathsheba. There was Mme. Danilova as Mrs. Pot[iphar]; she was something else! And me as Joseph with my coat of many colors. There was a wonderful line she had to speak. Choura died. She had to speak also. So we'd be rehearsing and this line would come. So Choura said to me one day, "You know, Freditchka, there's one line I not like." I said, "Well, Choura, what is it?" She said, "You know I have to say, 'I bake biscuits with my very old hands.'" I said, "Choura, no, not 'old' -- 'own.'" She said, "What it mean, 'own?'" I said, "Yours." "Oi!" she said, "I didn't like 'old hands.'" I said, "It's not so."
And this was going on. We went through the rehearsals. We came to New York. We opened. The press was good. But it was very controversial again, as always with her ballets. Well, one night the curtain goes up, and there's a lot of white collars -- all the vicars, priests, all this -- looking up. I thought. "What now? What am I going to do? They're the real thing down there." And I gave a performance like that . . . I really went mad. I really was more of a preacher than I'd ever been in my life. I was terrified of all those white collars in front of me. But we did it. And I had a wonderful distinction one night. I did Billy Sunday, and then I did Albrecht in Giselle -- on one program!
Q: Oh, my!
A: So as they said, the gamut from A to B, or whatever it was! So that was that. We had Louis Bromfield in the audience. We had wonderful press from the drama critics for this ballet. So it was another great notch up for me, you see, to go on to be an actor, as I had trained and had elocution and all that. So it was another facet of that personality of mine which, again, was due to Ruth. She brought out these things in all of us. But then came The Bells [sic].
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Cassette Tape ➜ Betacam SP ➜ 20 min.