Preview: “Ageless Dancers”
A book of photographs by Betti Franceschi

Jerry Hochman

I once read a review that asserted that dance is about bodies: young and beautiful humans at optimum fitness in the context of art.

Whether or not that’s a fair statement, sooner or later, even for dancers, age happens. We all hope it’s later, or that it could be put off indefinitely, but it’s a biological fact – and in most cases, it beats the alternative. But aging brings with it a host of unwelcome developments (to which I can attest) that can end up making the process, natural though it may be, a pain. A lot of it. Or, at a minimum, an annoying process of losing hair and muscle tone, and developing unwelcome drooping … things.

Portrait of Edward Villella
from Betti Franceschi’s “Ageless Dancers”

Unless you’re a former professional dancer.

Those who exercise as a condition of their life’s work are in a different category from mere mortals, as they were when they were young. Although dance is seen as a perpetual celebration of youth, former dancers more often than not illustrate how to age gracefully.

Now comes a book that celebrates that.

Cover photo of Gus Solomons, Jr.
from Betti Franceschi’s “Ageless Dancers”

“Ageless Dancers” is a collection of photographs of “older” dancers, as opposed to the youthful ones who appear in other relatively recent photographic compendiums. The images were all taken by painter and sculptor Betti Franceschi, and have been gathered in a book to be released by Overhead Press on Thursday, April 18th at an inaugural “signing” event between 5:00-7:00PM, at Jason McCoy Gallery, 41 East 57th Street in Manhattan. Franceschi and many of the dancers whose images appear in the book (at this time not indicated) will be in attendance and available for Q and A – and maybe autographs.

“Ageless Dancers” depicts 40 iconic dancers from the disciplines of ballet, modern, contemporary, tap, and musical theater. With an introduction by painter and curator George Negroponte, “Ageless Dancers” is comprised of 70 photographs that capture the continuing grace, strength, and intelligence of each former dancer – most of whom are household names, at least to those who follow dance.

Portrait of Carmen de Lavallade
from Betti Franceschi’s “Ageless Dancers”

The dancers featured include Carmen de Lavallade, Janet Eilber, Suki Schorer, Martine van Hamel, Edward Villella, Sarah Stackhouse, the late Jennifer Muller, the late Gus Solomons, Jr., and the late Jacques d’Amboise, whose photo is my favorite of those I’ve seen (there really are five fingers on his right hand) and is replicated below.

Portrait of Martine van Hamel
from Betti Franceschi’s “Ageless Dancers”

The book represents Franceschi’s decades-long fascination with dancers. As a painter, sculptor, and frustrated dancer, Franceschi (who is the mother of choreographer and former NYCB dancer Antonia Franceschi) has long studied bodies that speak.

Franceschi was born and raised in Cleveland and currently resides in New York City. She has specialized in the juncture of dance and fine art academically, and continued that dual focus in her subsequent professional career. After studying ballet at Indiana University, fine art at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon), and art history at New York’s Hunter College, her early work was mostly portraits. Subsequently she modified her focus to movement, creating figure drawings and paintings, and later, sculptures of dancers.

In 2015 Franceschi’s interest in gesture brought her to photography for her Ageless Dancers project, a series of joyous portraits of dancers in the latter years of life (from one source I found, at the time they were photographed these dancers were aged 70 and up – though you wouldn’t know it by viewing the photos).

Portrait of Jacques D’Amboise
from Betti Franceschi’s “Ageless Dancers”

Franceschi’s previous book, “The Still Point: Images from Dancers’ Bodies,” published in London in 1987, presented a series of graphite drawings (they look more like photographs) of leading New York dancers, focusing on the center of the body. The drawings were exhibited at Sadlers Wells, the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York, and the Philharmonic Center in Naples, Florida, among other venues, and her “Signature Drawings” (1987 on) of dancers in motion were exhibited at New York City Ballet’s home, the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater) at Lincoln Center, as well as at NYCB’s summer home in Saratoga Springs, NY. Her work has been reviewed in the London Evening Standard, The New York Times, the Saratogian, the New York City Ballet Playbill, and Dance Magazine.

“Ageless Dancers” is currently available for pre-order through Brilliant Editions (https://brilliant-editions.com). Books will be available for sale at the Jason McCoy Gallery on and after April 18 and through the Brilliant website.