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Frank A. Florentine: Master of Shadows and Light, Part 2

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The following is a guest post from Processing Technician Pam Murrell. It is the second of two posts on lighting designer Frank A. Florentine.

When asked about his travels with the Rudolf Nureyev ballet tour, Frank Florentine was full of anecdotes. “One time in New York around Halloween, I had to make an announcement before the show,” he recalled. “The stage hands slowly moved the curtain line down stage, forcing me closer to the orchestra pit where I could see that the musicians had all donned Groucho Marx glasses!”[1] Such moments would later be remembered as some of the highlights of Florentine’s notable career, which traversed states and countries, genres, and decades.

Chart shows pencil outline of right foot.
The Anello & Davide foot chart for the Boston Ballet dancer Tony Catanzaro, February 1982. Frank A. Florentine Papers relating to Rudolf Nureyev, Music Division.

From January 1982 through June 1983, Florentine worked as the production stage manager for Nureyev’s 65,000-mile world tour. Much of the material that comprised Florentine’s 2020 donation to the Library of Congress pertains to the touring show which saw him do everything from drafting technical plans and scheduling rehearsal times to directing crew members and taking the measurements of dancers. Regarding the last matter, pages featuring the street, character, and pointe shoe sizes of the members of the Boston Ballet are available within the collection.

Although Don Quixote was the signature production of the international tour, other ballets were also performed, including La Sylphide and Manfred, which was choreographed by Nureyev in 1979 and made its American debut on May 3, 1983. Posters from all three ballets were included in Florentine’s gift to the Music Division, along with related programs, correspondence, and light plots. While the tour was a daunting enterprise, it received worldwide acclaim thanks in large part to the successful collaboration between Florentine and Nureyev. When Florentine requested one evening that Nureyev show up at 2:00 p.m. on the day of each show to see the limits of the stage, Nureyev readily obliged. “After that he always appeared at 2:00 p.m., looked around, and gave me his approval,” recalled Florentine, and Nureyev “would always let me know what he expected for the next venue.”

Color photograph, Nureyev in leotard and dance shoes. Signed by Nureyev.
Unidentified photographer. Rudolf Nureyev (center) and the production crew of Don Quixote, Uris Theatre, New York, 1983. Florentine stands at the far right. Frank A. Florentine Papers relating to Rudolf Nureyev, Music Division.

During the course of the 16-month tour, Florentine kept meticulous production notes in a series of three journals. Within their pages are records of meeting times, telephone calls, expenses, and staging details. Also included is the occasional personal reflection. In one such comment, from August 4, 1982, Florentine expressed the importance of maintaining equilibrium with regard to one’s career and one’s domesticity. If “life, love, [and] your personal needs are all second,” he stated, “you become a machine, you lose personality, you lose self. And if you lose that – what do you have?”

Inscription: To Dear Mary Catherine, my best wishes and greating from Italy. Signed by Nureyev
Postcard from Rudolf Nureyev to Frank Florentine’s sister Mary Catherine Cole, August 18, 1982. Florentine Papers relating to Rudolf Nureyev, Music Division.

In 2019, Florentine and his wife, Susan, visited Italy, the location of one of the proudest moments of Florentine’s career. It was there that Don Quixote was performed in the Teatro Antico di Taormina, a mountaintop amphitheater overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Florentine had only six lights to illuminate the entire ballet, and the scenery was transported to the summit in golf carts. In spite of these challenges, the show was a resounding success. And at the conclusion of the performance, the audience, nearly 10,000-strong, raised lit candles in a magical display of appreciation. Nureyev, moved by the gesture, turned to Florentine and mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

After the tour ended, Florentine would remain stateside and work for various institutions on both the east and west coasts. In 2011, he joined The Colonial Players, a performing arts theater in Annapolis, Maryland, serving as the lighting designer until retiring in 2019. During his tenure, he was nominated for four Washington Area Theatre Community Honors (W.A.T.C.H.), which recognizes technical and artistic excellence in community playhouses throughout the Washington metropolitan area. When reflecting on his career, Florentine remarked, “Lighting designers don’t re-create reality; we make people think that the stage is reality.” In an earlier interview, he elaborated on this immutable intent. “The idea is to amaze people and to focus their attention… It is all about light and shadows.”[2]

[1]From emailed correspondence between Frank A. Florentine and Pam Murrell, August 2021.

[2] Miller, Neil. Kartchner Caverns: How Two Cavers Discovered and Saved One of the Wonders of the Natural World, University of Arizona Press, 2008, p. 163.


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