Frankee lived in a cold water flat on 15th street--5th floor--six rooms she rented out for more or less, $9 a month. When her lover wasn’t spending the night with Martha Graham, he and Frankee slept on a folding bed they picked up for $5 at the Salvation army on 14th street.
They bathed in the kitchen sink. It was near a window. Heating the water before their ablutions, the window glass got foggy. Praying every night to be a ballerina, she wrote on that window “Till Death Do Me Part I will dance” and waited until the words began to melt,, saying over and over, “Till death do me part, I will dance.”
Her lover, Sasha Liebich, legally changed his name to Mark Ryder after he danced with Martha Graham in “Errand into the Maze.“ The NY times praised his “balon”--the height he attained as he jumped while Graham did her agonizing. That’s what it looked like to Frankee --she wasn’t a Graham fan though Mark nagged her to study with “M.G.”
“Graham will love you Frankee. She’ll find your lyrical style interesting. If we were both working for her we could be together night and day and night!”
It made sense. They were talking about marriage. He split the front room rent with Frankee, as did her very first lover, Tolly. His real name was Anatole Holt. He still visited frequently so Tolly kept clothes in her closet for $2.00 a month.
Six feet two, handsome masculine Mark didn't seem concerned. He was in a Charisse ballet class--everyone who was anybody studied with Nenette ever since her long-legged sister Cyd Charisse got famous. Mark Ryder had a logical practical way of thinking, so Frankee headed for the next class that Martha Graham was teaching at an arty fancy place called Westbeth.
Frankee noticed immediately how all the Graham dancers all were wearing their hair pulled back like Martha’s into a chic bun. She left hers loose. She liked to find her own way of doing things.
When Martha G herself entered she knew who Frankee was. With all eyes pinned on her, Frankee absorbed the routines, the rhythms, the emphasis on the beat, and managed to make her movements slightly, (but interestingly) a fraction ahead of the beat as if she was actually inventing the moment of the movement.
Yuriko Kikuchi, a major leading dancer who did everything absolutely perfectly, stared.
Another Graham dancer, Helen McGee repeated the movement, again, and did it again as if her own perfect rendition of the routine would sooner or later force Frankee me to do it perfectly. But new student Frankee realized she was distracting other students as well as Martha G.
It inspired Frankee to perform the classroom routine more percussively, and lyrically, despite the percussive emphasis that the class-accompanist gave it.
Frankee already had an idea --about a folk song, no agony, just beautiful movement, about a lady who danced with a bird in a tree. Ryder saw her working on it and liked it. A lady named Trudy Goth, who rented a space for dancers to audition, told Frankee, “You can use my studio and showcase your idea.”
A well known dancer, Janet Collins , a soloist at The Met Opera Ballet told Mark “ I’d love to dance it myself. “ Frankee said, “ I want to dance it on a program we might do if we become The Frankee Ryder Duo. Mark laughed. “ It sounds better if my name is first.”
Frankee’s feet were blistered.She pretended they were fine.
Mark Ryder warned Frankee, someone phoned him after Frankee’s third class with the Graham Dancers. “Your girlfriend is rocking the boat.”
“Frankee, Don’t count on that role. Don’t count on any roles. The New YOrk season that’s scheduled for August probably won’t happen unless someone donates more money.”
But the dancers were whispering. Martha seemed to be upset. After Frankee’s fourth class, Martha announced, “ We have to look for new dates. I wanted it in the spring and now my backer says I have to wait until the winter.”
“ I can’t do that, Martha! It has to be now. My feet. My ankles. The blisters. “
Martha moved to the group at the barre. Martha said, “ Frankee, the season has to be cancelled. The backer needs another ten thousand. “
“Tomorrow we will work on small solos in “Deaths and Entrances”. There is a good role for you as the little girl, Frankee. ” Your husband wants you in the season. It’s an excellent showcase for you. “
Carrying her things, Frankee opened the door to the hall. “Ms. Graham, when you know the dates for the NY season, I’ll be back in class. “
When they got to the street, Mark Ryder was furious.
Back at the apartment, Frankee, folded up one of the folding beds and told Mark, “ I’m not a Martha Graham fan. Her agonizing, her contortions, are wrong for me. “
“ You are wrong, Frankee”
“We need to earn money right away so I don’t have to get rent money from Mom.”
“How much does Martha pay you? “
“ It's an honor to be in her company. We don’t get paid.”
“Mark, I’m going to get on Trudy Goth’s list. She has paid dancers doing her workshop.
I got an idea for a dance, a solo, something beautiful, lyrical, that suits me.
Long time ago I thought about dancing to an old English ballad, barefeet, black velvet dress, split open at the knees, so that every movement I make will be seen and sensual.
In the ballad the woman tells the bird to come down and play with me.”
Frankee improvised around the furniture, showing Mark how she’d make the bird play with her.
Frankee arched, the movement became a bouree, like a ballet dancer would do on pointe.
Mark said, “Frankee, you are wasting time. You are not being realistic. Nobody is going to be interested in you dancing with an imaginary bird! Why not dance it with me. Make it a duet.”
Talking to the bird in the tree, in her own tone of voice, Frankee said, “ Come down, come down you pretty little bird. “ Come down and play with me.:” When the bird says, No! I won’t come down. Frankee said, “ Why , why won’t you?
I can’t come down. I won’t come down. I can’t play with you.”
Why, why? Why can’t you.?
Daa daa da dee da da da da,
I can’t come down, I won’t come down.
Why won’t you play with me?
If I play with you, an ill death may you die.
I won’t die!
As I pas de bouree.
The music is going to be played by a harpist, Eugene Bianco. He is a wonderful harpist. And sung by a soprano. A Peter Bartok recording.
And Tolly’s giving me the money. He didn't pay me last month for storing his clothes.
After I rehearse this and it's in my bones, I’ll dance it at Trudy Goths and ask her to show it to other dancers.