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Billy Sunday (Virgins) [March 23, 1948]

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Film Identifier: F.2011-05-0045
Run Time
0h 8m 20s
Date Produced
March 23 1948
This original Ruth Page ballet was conceived in 1941 but not premiered by her company until December 13, 1946 in Mandel Hall at the University of Chicago (as a workshop version, with incomplete staging and no scenery or costumes). The full version was presented by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the New York City Center on March 2, 1948. Page originally approached Kurt Weill to compose the score but he fell through, so Page then considered John Cage, Virgil Thomson, and Nicholas Nabokov, before finally settling on Remi Gassman. There was also originally the possibility that Alexander Calder would design for the ballet but this also fell through, so Paul du Pont was chosen. "Billy Sunday" is based on the life and sermons of the American baseball player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday. This film appears to depict a rehearsal of three scenes from the ballet at the University of Chicago, recorded just weeks after the ballet's debut. The film canister label only lists the "Virgins" scene but the reel also appears to include a rehearsal of the "David & Bathsheba" sequence and the finale. The label also notes that the role of Billy Sunday is performed by Jerome Andrews and that this rehearsal film includes "no music, no costumes."
The film opens with a view of a stage, shot from a balcony above. A group of 5 female dancers ("wise" virgins) is sitting in a cluster just off center; the Billy Sunday character is walking toward stage left; 5 couples (including the 5 "foolish" virgins plus male companions) emerge from the back curtain. The couples begin an ensemble dance and the wise virgins soon join such that there is a formation of 5 men, each with a wise virgin and a foolish virgin. The men clearly favor the foolish virgins and eventually exit with them via the back curtain, leaving the wise virgins to mime crying and disappointment; 4 of the 5 exit and the remaining one is soon joined by Sunday, who sends her off. He then removes his jacket and begins a solo speech/dance. Next, the film cuts the Sunday in a wig (as David) accompanied by a woman with a prop mirror (as Bathsheba). He flexes his biceps and she flirtatiously walks about with the mirror. Eventually the two land on the ground together, embracing, until she triumphantly wrests his wig from his head. Then 4 dancers dressed like Ku Klux Klan members enter, circle the two of them, and carry Sunday-as-David around the stage. Eventually, he fights back and begins ripping off their hats and cloaks. He then dances a 'victory dance' and begins another speech, putting his jacket back on. The cluster of disrobed men, initially subdued, then rise up again, only to be subdued a second time. Afterwards a series of female 'believers' enter and begin an ensemble dance. Sunday joins them for the finale, the curtain closes, and Sunday is left alone, apparently hunched over from exhaustion at center. The film ends here.
Additional Credits
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Actors, Performers and Participants
Andrews, Jerome (is performer)
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)