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Sunday, November 20, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dancer reflects on legendary career

Seattle Times movie critic

"I think dance is the greatest thing in the world!" Marc Platt told a rapt audience at the Port Townsend Film Festival earlier this fall. He should know: Platt, a Seattle native who will turn 92 next month, has spent his life in dance.

Platt is one of many former members of the legendary dance company the Ballets Russes profiled in Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller's excellent documentary, "Ballets Russes" (now playing at the Harvard Exit). At his age, Platt no longer dances — "even a plié [ballet's equivalent of the knee bend] hurts," he says in the film — but steps quickly with the help of a cane.

In Port Townsend, Platt looked back at his experiences with the company, which he joined in the early '30s. While he admitted that his memory isn't what it once was, the enthusiasm and clarity of his storytelling were infectious.

A Seattle boy who loved baseball, Platt — born Marcel LePlatt — began dancing at the age of 11 at the studio of Mary Ann Wells. He wasn't sure he wanted to dance, so Wells kept him busy doing errands.

But one day, Platt remembered, "I walked up to the barre, and grabbed the barre, and I saw all these pretty little girls. I thought, wow, I could like this." He studied with Wells for eight years.

At 20, during the Depression, Platt was at loose ends, not sure what he would do for a living. Then Wells told him one day that the Ballets Russes was coming to town. The famed company, then under the guidance of choreographer Léonide Massine, was mostly made up of Russian dancers at the time.

Platt remembered that Mrs. Nelson, of the department store Frederick & Nelson, arranged an audition at a theater — "a depressing place." He began to warm up when an elegantly dressed gentleman walked in: Massine. Platt imitated a heavy Russian accent: "How do you do? You have dance? Do."

The audition went well, and for $150 a month he was hired for the Ballets Russes chorus. His name was Russianized to Marc Platoff. For six years, he toured with the company. It was no easy life: That $150 had to cover hotels and meals.

He remembered "ghosting" in hotels: One dancer would register for a room, and six more would sneak upstairs to share it. "We'd toss coins to see who would sleep on the box spring or the mattress, which we'd pull off onto the floor," he remembered.

After performances, they'd return to the hotel and rehearse, in the hotel ballroom, until very late. "We were dragging, we were tired," said Platt, "but we were also stimulated by what this man [Massine] was doing."

Platt was soon promoted to soloist and premiered many roles, eventually choreographing his own work for the company. He spoke affectionately of a favorite partner: Irina Baronova, one of the famous "baby ballerinas" of the company, was, he said, "beyond any shadow of a doubt the finest female dancer I had ever known."

In 1942, Platt heard the call of Broadway and the movies. He left the Ballets Russes, and for years alternated between stage and film.

On Broadway, he played Dream Curly in the original Broadway production of "Oklahoma!" He danced on screen with Rita Hayworth in "Tonight and Every Night" and played fourth brother Dan in the movie musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

After a stint in New York as director of the ballet company at Radio City Music Hall, Platt and his wife, Jean Goodall (whom he'd met on a show), moved to Florida and opened a ballet school. "It was a very nice and blissful life," he said," because I was married to this wonderful girl."

A widower for the past 11 years, Platt lives in Santa Rosa, Calif., near his daughter Donna, who accompanied him to Port Townsend. He looks back affectionately at the distant days that the film documents.

"We did things that nobody today would even think of doing," he said, with a smile. "They don't have the energy now."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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