Rare Mutoscope Of 1866 Production Of La Bayadere
“Rattlesnake” Frank Higgins wasn’t always a dance master. In fact, he began his career as a gunslinger. A crack shot, Frank was capable of shooting the fleas off a dog at 1000 yards. But he rarely took aim at small insects resting on a medium-sized mammal. Instead, his targets were other human beings who came too close to him.
His most famous duel occurred in his hometown of Deadskull, Mississippi when he shot and killed the brother of notorious outlaw “Wildman” Gratton Garnet with a 15-riccochet shot that bounced off no fewer than 5 belt buckles worn by onlookers before landing right between the eyes of his opponent.
In 1864, while drinking a fine whiskey in a saloon to wet his whistle, Frank found himself instigating a bar fight with a man that townsfolk described as “a city boy”. During the encounter, Frank fired several shots into the floor near the man’s feet and commanded him to dance. The man began to pirouette with technique so flawless that Frank stopped shooting for a moment, enchanted. This caused the man’s performance to suffer immediately.
Suddenly, similar incidents began flooding back from Frank’s subconscious. A street fight in Philadelphia that began with a spontaneous performance of Ballet Royal De La Nuit. Stabbing at the ankles of a childhood friend who grew up to be Italian prima ballerina Francesca Cerrito. Meticulously studying historical trends in dance while firing a shotgun at the feet of his sister.
Frank decided then and there to swear off using his guns for killing and instead use them to revolutionize the world of dance.
Bullet Rehearsal (1873) Edgar Degas
Over the next 15 years, Frank made it his mission to hone his craft on some of the most prestigious stages in the world. He guided the Royal Ballet in London to a sold-out run of Le Diable A Quartre using an innovative 15-guns tied together system. He showed off his ability to handle more contemplative pieces when he choreographed Giselle using only a single Derringer. His masterwork is widely considered to be a performance of Ondine at Mariinsky Ballet, where he employed not only a Gatling Gun but also a collection of rare historical pistols, including a Flintlock that had once been fired by George Washington.
Frank has endured his share of pitfalls though. In 1879, he lost his beloved Ma during a performance of The Blue Dahlia, when a stray bullet ricocheted 15 times (including 5 ricochets off the belt buckles of onlookers) and hit her square between the eyes.
Following this, Frank swore to never shoot a gun again. His ability to command a cast was greatly diminished by this choice. He would menace performers with a very obvious cap gun as they openly laughed at his ineffectiveness, sometimes choosing to dance worse just to further twist the screws. After being dismissed from Ballet De L’Opéra National De Paris due to lack of rooting/tooting, Frank took on the choreography of a kindergarten production of Le Corsaire at an exclusive private school to make ends meet. Still working only with harmless pop-guns and by pointing his finger and yelling “BANG!”, the production was a dismal failure and Frank was fired. Left gunless, jobless, and penniless, Frank began living in a pile of hay around back of the Palais Garnier. He spent most his time tossing stones at the feet of passersby in exchange for small scraps of hardtack or salt-cured meats.
In 1883, while drinking rainwater from a ditch to wet his whistle, Frank decided to get back to his roots and unretire his guns. He lined up a series of shows in his hometown of Deadskull and assembled a world-class team to bring to life a ballet that he himself had written. However, mere hours before the first performance, “Wildman” Gratton Garnet pushed open the swinging doors on the front of the ballet rehearsal hall and demanded satisfaction for the death of his brother all those years ago. His proposal was a duel at high noon, the exact time the performance was to begin.
The orchestra tuned up and the standing-room only crowd filed in. Dancers wrapped their ankles and shot at their own feet to warm up. Rifles and revolvers were sold as souvenirs. At exactly noon, Frank and Gratton took their positions stage left and stage right. The Master Of Ceremonies shouted “Draw!” and a single shot echoed through the hall. “Rattlesnake” Frank Higgins had been shot and killed by the notorious outlaw “Wildman” Gratton Garnet.
Gratton would go on to have his own illustrious career in dance but I reckon that’s a story for another time. I best be moseying along now.