A photo of Queen vocalist Freddie Mercury (pictured center) training with members of The Royal Ballet (London) in 1979.
“They (The Royal Ballet) asked me. They actually thought I could dance. So they asked me to do this charity concert. Then I realized, how I could dance. I appreciate their discipline and dedication a hell of a lot. I mean, it’s a different kind of dedication than you have to apply to what I’m doing. I don’t think I could ever do it because it’s like learning someone else’s steps. I do things that I want to do and it’s all very free-form.”
—Freddie Mercury on his collaboration with The Royal Ballet in 1979.
In 1979, encouraged by his friend Wayne Eagling a choreographer and principal dancer for The Royal Ballet, Freddie Mercury began training with members of the company for a charity performance to be held at the London Coliseum to raise money for mentally handicapped children. But before we get to the details on this bit of Freddie Mercury mythology, there is yet another fascinating bit of backstory to how this all came to be. Laura Jackson, author of Freddie Mercury: The Biography, met with Wayne Eagling to discuss Mercury’s epic performance with TRB. In the book, Eagling recalls going to the treasurer of the ballet, Joseph Lockwood, as he once held a high ranking job at EMI in the hope he might be able to persuade Kate Bush to guest star in the charity performance. Bush, still in her teens, had just been signed by the label by one of the music industry’s biggest titans, Bob Mercer. According to Mercer, he was “almost certain” Bush had been asked to don a pair of ballerina slippers before Mercury was. Kate’s manager put the kibosh on the idea, and Lockwood told Eagling to talk to his friend Freddie instead.
What isn’t up for dispute is the undeniable energy which exuded from Freddie Mercury like some sort of sonic communication from another planet. Queen’s live shows required high levels of physical endurance by its members, and this was especially true for Mercury. But could he dance? As unbelievable as it sounds, not really. However, there is no denying the man had moves for days and, allegedly, he had always wanted to “try” to dance ballet. Mercury took his training and rehearsals seriously, though he described the experience as “agonizing.” Here’s more from Freddie on becoming a ballet dancer:
“They had me practicing at the barre and all that, stretching my legs… trying to do things in a week that they’d been doing for years. It was murder. After two days I was in agony. It was hurting me in places I didn’t know I had, dear.”
As I’m sure you can imagine, Mercury’s performance was highly praised and even impressed the stuffy ballet regulars at the sold-out event. Of course, Mercury didn’t just dance with the members of The Royal Ballet, he also sang adapted versions of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” while he was being hurled around the stage never missing a note, beat, or pose. Queen drummer Roger Taylor bore witness to Freddie’s debut calling it “brave and hilarious.” The experience made an impact on Mercury, and he, Eagling and other TRB dancers would collaborate once again for the “I Want To Break Free” video in 1984, which Eagling helped to choreograph. In part, the video is based on the ballet L’après-midi d’un faune (Afternoon of a Faun) with an un-mustachioed Mercury mimicking the star of the original 1912 production, famous dancer/choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky. Zowie.
So, with yet another Queen history lesson under our belts, let’s take a look at some of the remarkable photos captured during Mercury’s time with The Royal Ballet as well as video footage of Freddy live on stage for one night with The Royal Ballet on October 7th, 1979.
Much more after the jump…