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Ruth Page Collection Fully Catalogued

Guest poster here—it’s Pamela Krayenbuhl, announcing that I have completed the cataloguing process for the vast Ruth Page Collection of dance film and video. It has been a long journey, but now that I’ve earned the advantage of hindsight, I am pleased to provide a general overview of the collection and highlight a few gems of particular interest (out of hundreds!).

Ruth Page was a trailblazer in the field of American concert dance, and helped to establish Chicago as a center for American ballet even before George Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet in New York City in 1934. The films and videos of the collection here at CFA visually document her long career as a choreographer and company director, from the Page-Stone Ballet of the 1930s to the Chicago Opera Ballet in the 1950s and 60s, and the Chicago Ballet in the 70s—though there were also several interim company titles such as The Ballet Guild of Chicago, The Ruth Page Ballets, and Ruth Page’s International Ballet. Over the years, Page’s choreographic style and subject matter changed a great deal. Below, in a 1957 video from Series II of the collection, Page explains the arc of her early career to Ken Nordine for a Chicago television program.

Many of the works Page describes to Nordine—both the earlier, jazzier Americana ballets and the middle period of opera ballets—are represented in this collection. Series I in particular houses films of the more thoroughly documented older works, often in performance but sometimes in rehearsal as well. Series II shifts toward later works by virtue of its video format, though video conversions of the earlier films are present as well. Series III fills out the narrative with filmed interviews with Page and many of her collaborators over the years.

The archive suggests that, by the 1970s, Page shifted her focus from showcasing her own choreography toward curating works by other artists on the bodies of her company dancers. This decision seems to have been fueled at least in part by funding difficulties and the lack of a consistent ‘home stage’ for the company; Page (along with various co-directors and presidents such as Ben Stevenson and Geraldine Freund) tried to draw in audiences by importing both guest dancers and choreographers from around the world. This resulted in a wide variety of works being funneled through Chicago. One example of the company’s innovative approaches to its problems is the work Scat, which was choreographed for the Chicago Ballet by former New York City Ballet dancer Lois Bewley. Below is a video of a rehearsal of the work, which was choreographed specifically to be performed ‘in-the-round,’ and which the company then premiered in such a space at the Drury Lane Theater in Chicago’s Water Tower Place during early 1977.

Here are some additional examples indicating the fascinating range of Chicago Ballet rehearsals recorded during the 1970s:

  • Caliban (Act I; Acts II & III) – A full-length rock-n-roll ballet (inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest), choreographed by James Clouser and set to music by the band St. Elmo’s Fire. It was premiered by the Houston Ballet in May 1976; its Chicago premiere occurred on Thursday, October 13, 1977 at the Medinah Temple.
  • Façade – A ballet choreographed by prominent British choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton, to music composed by William Walton. Its one act of seven to ten divertissements is based on the 1923 avant-garde performance work Façade – An Entertainment by Walton and Edith Sitwell. This Chicago Ballet version was staged in 1975 by Richard Ellis and Christine Du Boulay.
  • Moonscape – A modern dance work choreographed by Jan Stockman Simonds, set to music by Michael Horvit and inspired by her husband’s work with NASA. It was premiered by the Houston Ballet in June 1975; this video represents either a dress rehearsal or performance of the piece on April 15, 1976 by the Chicago Ballet.
  • Rhythms – A modern dance work choreographed by company member Richard Arve for Ruth Page’s Chicago Ballet in the early 1970s.  It uses several tracks of popular music from the era, including “Embryo,” “Children of the Grave,” and “Into the Void” from Black Sabbath’s 1971 album Master of Reality and Morton Subotnick’s 1968 The Wild Bull (Part A).
  • Water Study– A canonical modern dance work choreographed by modern dance luminary Doris Humphrey in 1928, set not to music but natural human breathing and pulse rhythms. This video of a reconstruction of the work was recorded on January 26, 1978—perhaps for a 50th anniversary performance by the Chicago Ballet.

The Ruth Page Collection also includes not only rare performance recordings of such famous dancers as Talley Beatty and Marjorie Tallchief (in 1957 & 1959) in works by Page, but also a number of equally rare tapings from television that were of interest to Page…and any dance enthusiast. Two of my personal favorites are this 1978 copy of Twyla Tharp’s Making Television Dance and this segment of Paul Taylor choreography, beautifully (and hauntingly?) performed by Rudolph Nureyev and Bettie de Jong, from a 1971 CBS special entitled Singer Presents Burt Bacharach.

I will leave you with one final morsel, which most clearly encapsulates (for me) Page’s long-spanning, rich, and varied career. It also speaks to how fortunate we are that so much of it was recorded on film and video. This particular tape is divided into two parts: first, one of CFA’s four episodes of the 1960s television program Repertoire Workshop from Chicago, and second, a compilation of film excerpts in both color and black & white (mostly rehearsals or intimate home-studio performances) from the first half of Page’s career—some of them including Page herself as a dancer! The difference in style between Page’s televised choreography for Carmen and José during the first half, and then the pas de trois and her own outdoors solo from an earlier version of this same ballet during the second half, demonstrates a fascinating stylistic development over the 20+ year interim between the two.

It has been a privilege for me to spend so much time with the Ruth Page Collection. Now that the project is complete, I am rather sad to be leaving Page’s world. The research process of digging through old reviews from the Chicago Tribune, dancers’ bios from around the country, and choreographic records of all kinds really gave me a sense of how influential Page was, not only for Chicago dance audiences, but for artists and audiences all over the world. There is definitely something for everyone—costumers, set designers, choreographers, anthropologists, and beyond—in this collection. Tell your friends!

Pamela Krayenbuhl is a Mellon Interdisciplinary Fellow and PhD candidate in Screen Cultures at Northwestern University. Her dissertation examines the intersection of dance cultures with commercial film & television cultures in midcentury America, with a particular focus on race and masculinity. She also dances with and choreographs for the Chicago-based Modet Dance Collective, which she co-founded in 2013.

Giving Thanks

CFA has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. This week we learned that CFA was awarded three grants – one from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), one from the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and another from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.

The NEH grant ($6000) will go towards purchasing steel archival shelves for two massive collections – the Frank Koza Newsreel Collection and the Robert & Terry Davis Travelogue Collection. Combined, these two collections have over 2,700 film & audio elements. We are delighted (and thankful!) to give these collections a nice and stable home within our temperature controlled vault.

A treat from CFA’s Robert & Terry Davis Collection, OBEY YOUR AIR RAID WARDEN (1942, Robert Davis & Harry Hilfinger):

We are also excited to announce that the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation matched our recent NEA grant of $20,000 with $34,500 to digitize the remainder of the Ruth Page Dance Collection. This collection contains dance rehearsals and performances that date back to 1922 including footage of Rudolph Nureyev soon after his defection from the Soviet Union, Balinese dances filmed during Page’s 1928 Asian Tour, and performances of The Merry Widow on the Ed Sullivan Show. It also contains the original and master tapes of numerous interviews with dance critics such as Clive Barnes and John Martin, dancers such as Larry Long, Delores Lipinski, Anne Kisselgoff and Maria Tallchief, and a comprehensive series of interviews and oral histories with Page herself that date from 1957 through 1987.

A portion of the inspected 16mm films in CFA’s Ruth Page Collection

Combined, the NEA & Donnelley grants will help fund the digitization of over 900 unique moving image and audio items, including 16mm films, rare video formats (including 2″!), Betacam SP tapes and a handful of 1/4″ audio reels. This Donnelley Foundation grant also allows CFA to strengthen our digital storage and digitization workflows, making it easier for us to get these digitized materials streaming on our website and therefore accessible to you.

And speaking of access…also in the works is a Midwest dance program, featuring the work of Ms. Page alongside the provocative work of the talented dancer-choreographer Sybil Shearer (1912-2005). (More on this 2014 screening soon!)  In the mean time, though, you can view 63 freshly digitized Ruth Page films & videos on our site, including two recently restored 1928 Ravinia performances (here and here), a handful of television appearances by Ruth Page & Co (view one here), home movies filmed during Page’s 1928 Asian Tour (view one here) as well as a sprinkling of rare 1″ and 1/2″ video tapes digitized by Bay Area Video Coalition.

And! last night we learned that the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation awarded CFA an $8000 grant for 2014 General Operations. SO SO THANKFUL! Chicago Film Archives is a 501(c)(3) non profit and depends on grants like these AND the support from our followers to thrive. Please consider donating to CFA here. Each contribution both large and small is critical to our continuing work.

Out of the Shadows

Left: Sybil Shearer (image courtesy of the Morrison Shearer Foundation);Right: John Neumeier

Slowly, slowly modernist dancer and choreographer Sybil Shearer is emerging from the shadows.  After a successful dance premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1941, Shearer decided to come to Chicago to develop her art in the open landscapes of the Midwest.  She built a studio in Northbrook, IL and mentored and inspired many young artists including John Neumeier, Director and chief Choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet.  This weekend Neumeier and the Hamburg Ballet present Nijinsky at the Harris Theater.

Sid Smith wrote this article for the Chicago Tribune about the Midwest artistic giants who influenced Neumeier’s work. In it, Neumeier mentions Sybil Shearer, stating “From the point of view of movement and movement invention, from a sense of inner concentration, Sybil is my greatest inspiration…I didn’t realize it at the time. Sybil was slow-working; she prepared and prepared something and then would shelve it to work on something else. As a young man, I was impatient. But in retrospect, I deeply appreciate what she gave me.”

CFA houses and manages the Morrison-Shearer film collection for the Morrison-Shearer Foundation. To learn more about Sybil Shearer, you can go to CFA’s Explore Collections page or to the Morrison-Shearer Foundation website.

The Hamburg Ballet performs Nijinsky Friday, Februray 1 and Saturday, February 2 at the Harris Theater. And on Monday, February 4, John Neumeier will be talking with Northwestern University’s Susan Manning at the Arts Club of Chicago.

An Early Peek at the Ruth Page Collection!

BOLERO at Ravinia (HIghland Park, IL), 1928

Dancing with the Ravinia Opera as early as 1926, Ruth Page (herself only 26 years old) was also given the chance to choreograph large-scale performances at Ravinia’s north of Chicago outdoor venue.

Last year CFA discovered several 35mm nitrate film elements in the Page Collection. As a result of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, these films are currently at Colorlab to be restored and preserved on 35mm safety film.  According to labeling on these elements, both CARMEN and BOLERO were performed at Ravinia in 1928.  Nitrate film produces crystalline images often like no other film stock can.  We are excited to see the final prints that Colorlab produces for this project.

Also underway is the digital preservation of 80 more reels of Ruth Page performances and rehearsals recorded on ½ inch reel-to-reel videotape in the 60s and early 70s.  The folks at Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) are working with these more volatile tapes in order to ensure the survival of these dance events recorded a half century ago.

We’ll keep you posted!

Earliest-known Eiko & Koma film discovered and preserved

Below is a press release from Imogen Smith over at the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC). In June, we volunteered our services to the DHC and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts by hand inspecting, re-housing and digitizing a reel of 16mm film featuring an early work of the performance duo, Eiko & Koma. We are happy & honored to be a part of the team that is working to uncover our country’s dance heritage.  Here at home we are attending to the legacies of Ruth Page and Sybil Shearer.

Pictured above left: White Dance c.1973, choreographed and performed by Eiko & Koma. Film still, title: unknown, creator: unknown. ; Pictured above right: Eiko’s first viewing of the CFA’s digitization of the newly discovered film.

Dance Heritage Coalition initiative is helped by Chicago Film Archives and New York Public Library for the Performing Arts

New York City – The Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) is pleased to announce the exciting discovery of the earliest existing film footage of Eiko & Koma performing.  The film, found last month among the company’s records during the Dance Heritage Coalition’s inventory of Eiko & Koma’s legacy materials, has been stabilized and digitized, and is now viewable again through the generosity of Nancy Watrous and Anne Wells at the Chicago Film Archives.

The discovery was made during an inventory of the company’s materials conducted by DHC Preservation Fellow Patsy Gay with the help of dance scholar Rosemary Candelario. In addition to providing the first comprehensive inventory of Eiko & Koma’s materials, this project involves identifying and remedying conservation concerns and improving workflow arrangements. It lays the groundwork for future preservation of E&K’s archives and allows the artists a major role in shaping their own artistic legacy. Since the summer of 2011, the DHC has conducted five inventories of key dance companies’ collections in San Francisco and New York City. Funding for these projects was provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The mysterious and unassuming single reel of 16mm film was identified with the help of Tanisha Jones, director of the Archive of the Recorded Moving Image within the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It turned out to be a lost film documenting Eiko & Koma in Amsterdam circa 1973. Before the duo’s United States debut, Eiko & Koma had studied with Kazuo Ohno in Japan and Manja Chmiel in Germany.  During 1973, they lived in a studio they called Dance Laboratory, which was in an old school building in Amsterdam. In 1976 they moved to New York where they have been living and working ever since.

The 12-minute silent film consists of a series of short segments documenting Eiko & Koma performing a variety of material both solo and together. It also captures the pair’s informal interactions offstage. This footage, as the earliest-known example of Eiko & Koma’s dance work, illuminates an under-documented time in their career and captures the budding of the pair’s artistic partnership. The short vignettes of movement, while raw and unrefined, clearly show the pair’s signature choreographic style, albeit in embryonic form.

Despite the casual storage and housing, the film is in good condition, having experienced only minor color fading and mild surface abrasions. Upon hearing about this discovery, Nancy Watrous generously offered the expertise and resources of the Chicago Film Archives, which is a leader in film preservation. Their capable staff stabilized the reel by inspecting, cleaning, and rehousing it. They also digitized the film, which allows the material to be easily watched and saves the original item from the wear and tear of handling and viewing. Thanks to Nancy Watrous and Anne Wells at the Chicago Film Archives, this precious dance historical treasure is now safely preserved for the future.

DHC Executive Director Libby Smigel expressed appreciation for the assistance that both the Chicago Films Archives and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dance Division provided free of charge in identifying and preserving the film.  Smigel said, “Without the collaborative contributions of the Dance Division and the Chicago Film Archives, this film would sit unidentified, unpreserved, and inaccessible.  Both organizations deserve the gratitude of the entire dance field for contributing their specialized expertise to saving the seminal records of Eiko & Koma’s performance career.”

For more information about collections assessments and inventories that the Dance Heritage Coalition provides, visit:

For more information about film preservation and the Chicago Film Archives, visit: :  For information on their project to save the legacy of Chicago dance treasures Ruth Page, see:

For more information about the NYPL Jerome Robbins Dance Division, along with the Division’s Archive of the Moving Image, visit:


CFA Awarded NEA Grant to Process Ruth Page Dance Collection

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman announced today that Chicago Film Archives is one of the 788 not-for-profit national, regional and state organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant.  These Art Works grants support the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence, public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and the strengthening of communities through the arts.  The NEA received 1,624 eligible applications under the Art Works category for this round of funding.  The Chicago Film Archives has been awarded its full request from the NEA and expects to meet the required match this coming year to stabilize the Ruth Page Dance Collection in its entirety.

Illinois’ 7th District Representative Danny Davis remarked,

Ruth Page was an extraordinary pioneer of dance in America.  The moving image collection acquired by the Chicago Film Archives is an irreplaceable treasure.  The Archives, by preserving and protecting this legacy, are ensuring that this treasure will be available for generations to come.  I congratulate the Archives, and all the dedicated people who work there, on winning this grant and applaud their vision and initiative in undertaking this project.

We are ready to get started on this fascinating collection from Chicago’s premiere and iconic twentieth century dance figure.  Containing nearly 1,000 items, CFA will stabilize, digitize and catalog this collection over a three-year period.  It’s with great honor that as a result of this grant, CFA will soon be able to publicly present the history, accomplishments and artistry of the Chicago dancer and choreographer, Ruth Page. By building upon both the Ruth Page and the Morrison-Shearer Foundation dance collections, CFA can begin to retell Chicago’s history of dance.

- Nancy

Sybil Shearer (1912-2005)

Today marks what would have been Sybil Shearer’s 100th birthday. Sybil Shearer (1912-2005) was a leading pioneer of modern dance and arguably one of the finest dancers of the 20th century. Shortly after a critically acclaimed solo debut at Carnegie Hall in 1941, Sybil moved to Chicago and developed a studio in Northbrook, where she worked independently, close to nature, and in her own unorthodox way. Soon after her move, she met photographer, Helen Balfour Morrison (1901-1984), who became her lighting director, photographer, filmographer, and artistic collaborator for the next forty years.

CFA houses and manages the Morrison-Shearer film collection on behalf of the Morrison-Shearer Foundation (founded in 1991). The collection contains just under 900 films and audio reels, the majority of which document the creative process and fruitful collaboration between Helen Morrison and Sybil Shearer. The collection itself includes complete works, rehearsal footage, production materials as well as a hand full of home movies and interviews.

Just this past month we completed the hand inspection and archival re-housing of the collection’s 16mm. film elements (totaling just over 400 reels). We are now onto digitally transferring these 16mm. film elements and beginning to discover (as well as understand) this largely unpublished and unknown collection of films.

To celebrate Sybil and what would have been her 100th birthday (February 23, 2012), we have put together a sequence of some of our favorite film segments – all from the reel titled EARLY NORTHBROOK.


Also! Hear Sybil in her own words! you can view an excerpt from a 1980 interview between Sybil Shearer and dance critic Walter Terry here.

Alison Cuddy Interview with Ruth Page Dancers

Thanks to Andy Resek (, we have this wonderful documentation of Alison Cuddy’s (WBEZ) interview with Ruth Page dancers, Delores Lipinski Long (Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Civic Ballet of Chicago) and Patricia Klekovic Irwin (Ruth Page Center for the Arts). Together, they discuss the behind-the-scenes dance culture that supported and defined the world of twentieth century dance generated by Chicago’s own prima ballerina and choreographer, Ruth Page. The interview took place at CFA’s November 2011 Fundraiser party, which spotlighted the life of Ruth Page, whose legacy now resides in one of CFA’s newest collections – The Ruth Page Collection.


LOVE SONG (1947)

“Ruth Page (1899-1999) embraced a life of artistic restlessness, in which a quest for the new, with a refusal to conform to any one style of dance, became her legacy.  Emanating from Chicago, the visionary work of Ruth Page influenced the growth of theater design, opera ballet, and dance.  She achieved worldwide recognition as a true pioneer of dance in America.”

- Lon Gordon, Professor of Fine Arts at Illinois State University

Stunning in size and scope, this moving image collection documents and preserves the dance legacy and artistic circle of choreographer, Ruth Page, named by the Dance Heritage Coalition as one of America’s 100 Irreplaceable Dance Treasures.  The largest collection of moving image materials related to Ruth Page, it is a worthy complement to the vast manuscript collection that resides at the Jerome Robins Dance Division of the New York Public Library and the Newberry Library in Chicago.

This collection contains rehearsals and performances that date back to 1922 including footage of Rudolph Nureyev soon after his defection from the Soviet Union, Balinese dances filmed during Page’s 1928 Asian Tour, and performances of The Merry Widow on the Ed Sullivan Show.  It also contains numerous interviews with dance critics such as Clive Barnes and John Martin, dancers such as Larry Long, Delores Lipinski, Anne Kisselgoff and Maria Tallchief, and a comprehensive series of interviews and oral histories with Page herself that date from 1957 through 1987.  Among the dozens of Ruth Page ballets that are contained in this collection is a 35mm print of Bolero danced in 1928 at Ravinia in Highland Park, IL.  To our knowledge, this is the only existing moving image representation of that performance.