Keep on dancin’

Fred Shadle

Photo By Larry Dalton

Not many people in life show up without fail again and again. The New York Yankees had Lou Gehrig, who played every game for nearly 14 years. The Sacramento Ballet has Fred Shadle. The 89-year-old has seen every production since 1962, has been on the ballet’s board of directors since 1975 and is now one of two lifetime members, along with company co-founder Barbara Crockett. Ballet members, from dancers to stagehands, know the two-war veteran simply as “Colonel Fred.” Though his involvement in the arts is limited these days—unlike the 1980s, when he also served on the symphony and opera boards—Shadle and his wife of 60 years still attend every opening night at the Sacramento Ballet. On a recent morning at the ballet studio, Shadle told SN&R how he stays active.

After all these years, what keeps you coming back to the ballet?

Love of the art form, really.

Would you say you’re more a lover of ballet or a lover of opera?

Well, I tell people: Ballet is 100, opera’s 99. … I worked in the opera for 25 years.

You’ve been affiliated with the ballet now for over 40 years and on the board for over 30. What’s been the progression of the company?

Well, of course, the major progression was going from an amateur company to a professional company. The company has grown somewhat in numbers. When [co-artistic director Ron Cunningham] first came—when we first became professional—we had six dancers. Now we have 20, 22, and that’s quite a progression.

How do you feel to have been involved all these years and to have gotten to watch this growth?

Oh, it’s wonderful. You’d be surprised. I’m friends with, what, 300-some-odd singers, maybe 200 and some-odd dancers. It’s been a wonderful experience, really.

Does the Nutcracker hold a special place in your heart?

Oh, of course. I’m the kind of guy who just doesn’t get tired of things that I like. I’ve probably heard Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, on the stage and in rehearsal and performance, probably around 500 times and I still enjoy listening to it, really. When I work backstage, I listen to the music. I just love classical music, anyway. I have a pretty good knowledge of quite a lot of it.

Do you have a favorite composer?

Not really. I like everything, beginning with Beethoven. Everything before Beethoven to me is Jurassic. Well, we had to have it, but now I don’t really care for it. So I like Sekles, Teike and Mahler. I guess those are my favorites. Wagner, Verdi.

You used to bring the flowers out onstage after every performance, and in the last year you had to stop doing that. Do you see yourself slowing down at all as far as your involvement with the ballet?

Oh yeah. … It’s slowed down, you know, because you wear down after a while.

How much longer do you see yourself being involved with the ballet?

Until they turn me away. Well, not really. You come to a point where instead of taking care of the dancers, the dancers and the people take care of you, and I don’t want that to happen, you know what I mean? Either I pull my own weight [or] I just don’t want to get in the way. So I probably won’t be involved with it much more than this year. I’ll continue to go until I can’t.

Do you have a favorite memory from all these years?

That’s kind of hard to say. I have one memory that I’m fond of. On my 75th birthday, I went to a board meeting. They had a cake over there. I don’t know how they knew it was my birthday at that time. Well, I think somebody learned it.

Anyway, then I came back after that and went backstage and Giselle was being rehearsed. I think it was a dress rehearsal, they had the orchestra, and I got backstage just during the break. And just before they were ready to go for the second act, they called me to the stage and I went out onstage and the orchestra played “Happy Birthday.” I certainly doubt they ever did that before or after. It was nice.

Does coming around here and seeing all the young dancers keep you young?

Absolutely, oh yeah. I have no illusions about being old or young. But when people get old, that’s what they think about, being old, and I hate this. So, if you keep company with old people, well, you’re just supposed to be like they are. With the singers and dancers, it’s not a matter of keeping me young but it’s being able to interact with young people. It’s a way to get away from old people.