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Frederic Franklin, at 98; dancer helped bring ballet to the mainstream in US

Frederic Franklin (top) is shown performing with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1939.

Geller/Goldfine Productions

Frederic Franklin (top) is shown performing with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1939.

NEW YORK — Frederic Franklin, a charismatic British-born dancer and ballet master who was known for his stylistic versatility and his inexhaustible energy — he performed into his 90s — died Saturday in Manhattan. He was 98 and lived in Manhattan.

The death was confirmed by William Haywood Ausman, Mr. Franklin’s partner of 48 years.

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Mr. Franklin, who helped popularize modern ballet in the United States, founded the National Ballet of Washington in 1969 and directed it until it disbanded in 1974. He also served as an adviser to Dance Theater of Harlem, the Oakland Ballet, the Tulsa Ballet, and other companies.

Mr. Franklin, known in the dance world as Freddie, had a genial but magnetic stage personality that made him popular everywhere he performed.

His repertory ranged from the Prince in ‘‘Swan Lake’’ to a cowboy in ‘‘Rodeo’’ and Stanley Kowalski in a choreographic version of ‘‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’’ As a principal dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, Mr. Franklin was often paired with the Russian ballerina Alexandra Danilova to form one of the great partnerships of 20th-century ballet.

When he first met her, he once recalled, she warned, ‘‘Young man, if you are going to dance with me, you must learn where my curves are.’’ He did. They danced together in many works, including ‘‘Swan Lake’’ and ‘‘Coppelia,’’ and were especially popular for their effervescence in two comedies by Leonide Massine, ‘‘Le Beau Danube’’ and ‘‘Gaite Parisienne.’’

Major choreographers like Massine and George Balanchine recognized Mr. Franklin as a quick learner with a sharp mind and theatrical flair. They created leading roles for him in ballets like Massine’s ‘‘Seventh Symphony’’ and ‘‘Rouge et Noir’’ and Balanchine’s ‘‘Danses Concertantes.’’

The stage was a second home for him, and he never really stopped performing. In his later years he portrayed mime roles like Friar Laurence in ‘‘Romeo and Juliet,’’ the Witch in ‘‘La Sylphide,’’ the Tutor in ‘‘Swan Lake’’ and the Charlatan in ‘‘Petrouchka’’ — all to warm applause.

In 1935, Mr. Franklin joined the Markova-Dolin Ballet, a British company, and was soon considered a young dancer worth watching. Among those who saw him was Massine, who hired him for a new company, the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He remained with the company until financial troubles forced it to disband temporarily in 1951, but rejoined in 1954 and stayed until 1957.

When the Ballet Russe was temporarily inoperative, Mr. Franklin and Mia Slavenska, a ballerina with the company, formed a small touring group, the Slavenska-Franklin Ballet, with a varied repertory that ranged from ‘‘Nutcracker’’ excerpts to Valerie Bettis’ sizzling adaptation of the Tennessee Williams’ ‘‘Streetcar Named Desire,’’ with Slavenska as Blanche DuBois to Mr. Franklin’s Stanley.

In addition to Ausman, Mr. Franklin leaves his brother, John; a niece, Pamela Hayes Brookfield; and his nephews, John, Tim and Peter Franklin and Neil Hayes.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.

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