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Ruth Page Lunch w/ Ann Barzel No. 17 [April 1, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0509
Run Time
0h 19m 21s
Date Produced
April 1 1985
NOTE: This interview was conducted as an informal conversation. Consequently, instead of the usual Q (Interviewer) and A (Interviewee) format, questions and statements are identified by the initials of the participants: AB (Ann Barzel); RP (Ruth Page); TF (Thea Flaum).
[Interview begins at 02:45.]
AB: My first views of you were on the stage, but after I got to know you personally, it was always a meal. That was great!
RP: We've taken a lot of trips together.
AB: Yes, we've had wonderful trips together. Remember Hamburg?
RP: We had a marvelous time there.
AB: St. Tropez.
RP: I don't know how long I've known you. It seems that I've known you forever.
AB: Not quite. I've known you longer than you've known me. I saw you, you didn't see me in the Eighth Street Theatre. [Toasting] Here's to you.
RP: You taught for a long, long time. Didn't you get your pension?
AB: Oh, yes.
RP: That was very smart of you. Because that had nothing to do with dance. You were teaching school.
AB: Oh, yes. But all the time I taught dance after school or Sundays.
RP: You lectured on the history of dancing.
AB: That came much later.
RP: Did it? So few people know about the history of dancing, including me. I like that book on Fanny Elssler.
AB: Isn't that fun?
RP: Marvelous.
AB: Talking about books on dance, you've written books on dance.
RP: I've written a few.
AB: I love the one called Class.
RP: I took classes all around the world, so class was always interesting to me, from the time I first started traveling. Every time I went to a foreign city, or even New York or Chicago, I always went to see certain dancing classes. I mean the different teachers, the way they teach. Do you remember the way Kreutzberg taught?
AB: Yes.
RP: How would you describe that? I tried to describe it in the book, but it's indescribable.
AB: It's like his dancing . . . . Like when you danced with Kreutzberg, it wasn't academic at all. The things you did were very free form. In fact, that's what you've always done. Like your Flapper and the Quarterback -- the first thing I saw you do. I don't think it has a single academic step in it. From the beginning, you used to invent. Well, that's what it takes. Choreography is something that nobody can sell you the materials. You just have to take it out of the air.
     I was just in Norman, Oklahoma, and there were these college dancers. Everybody's a choreographer. One thing I told them is that they weren't teaching them enough when they were letting them choreograph so much. It would be much more to their advantage if they brought in professional choreographers so that they'd see what it was like. This way, they corrupt their taste. They think that anything they put together is all right; it's a dance.
RP: It's a very complicated problem, choreography is.
AB: It's one of the most difficult creative arts. But you jumped into it very fast.
RP: Well, I always like to make up dances. From the time I was a little girl, I remember I was always making up dances. And that's all choreography is, is making up dances, really.
AB: You know why I smile? I was reading some old American dance histories, about John Durang, the first American professional dancer. They never said he choreographed dances. In the one program, they said "Dances made by . . . ." There, you just used the same phrase.
RP: The word hasn't been used for too long.
AB: I know. Choreography got to be great when they need the pretentiousness of three or four syllables.
RP: Have you ever choreographed anything?
AB: Oh, sure.
RP: What did you choreograph?
AB: When you teach dance, there's a thing called a "Kiddie Recital" at the end of the season, and you make up dances . . .
RP: For the kiddies.
AB: . . . for every class. And I would never put tall girls and short ones together, so I was having to make up more dances than anybody else! Actually, teaching ballet is a choreographic situation, because unless you're one of these teachers who has the same exercises every day, you make up new combinations. It's a choreographic situation.
     When you were teaching at the school, I noticed you had a course on choreography last year. How did that go?
RP: Well, I don't think you can teach it very well. We didn't have enough talent. There weren't enough people who had the talent to do it. I didn't stay at it very long. And it's something you can't teach anyway. I will try it again some time to see if I can find some more talented people.
AB: They have to be made conscious of the music and of the thematic movement, I presume.
RP: Well, I think the way to teach choreography is to show them good examples first, like Swan Lake is perfect choreography. So is Giselle. Those classic ballets are marvelous choreography.
AB: Oh, yes.
RP: And we used to do a ballet in the Pavlova company called Puppenfee -- Fairy Doll -- and it was a ballet that I think would be marvelous for children. I don't know why somebody doesn't revive it. Maybe somebody has.
AB: George Verdak has.
RP: It's lots of little doll dances and . . . .
AB: Which one did you do?
RP: I'll tell you, the one I did when I first was with the company . . . I had to be the Japanese Doll, and the Japanese Doll didn't dance at all. She just sat. So I was very disgusted. I thought I should be up there dancing. But I got to see all the other dancers dance. I didn't have to be the Japanese Doll too long. But that's my first experience in Puppenfee, was there.
AB: You know, that's so interesting. The first dance lessons I took, I was nine years old, and it was in sort of an Association House, a community place, and the first dance we were ever taught was the Japanese dance with the fans and these little mincing steps, using the fans. You know, the things you do later you forget. The first things you do, stay. Well, like the first things I saw you do. But one of the first things I saw you do, that made a tremendous impression on me, was Hear Ye! Hear Ye!
RP: Oh, do you remember that? Because I don't remember it very well. I remember that was the first time anyone asked Aaron Copland to write music for dance. I don't remember how I found him or anything, but I liked his music. My husband helped me with that story. The story of the courtroom, the lawyer story. We had the Prosecuting Attorney and the Defense Attorney, all the different . . . .
AB: I remember Mark Turbyfill was the Prosecuting Attorney.
RP: That's right.
AB: And I remember you and Bentley were the dancers who did the same pas de deux several times while it was viewed by the Honeymoon Couple or the sort of Mad Man.
RP: It was an interesting idea. I don't remember it enough to revive it. I'd like to revive it but . . . .
AB: You've got the story and the music. All you have to put together is different steps. I remember the doves, the Honeymoon Couple. They were fluttering with doves.
RP: Well, you have a better memory than I have . . . .
AB: The other thing I remember about you, you had the most perfect parties. Your parties were the best and most memorable. Your choreography and your parties are memorable. The first party I ever went to that you gave, you invited all the dancers of the WPA Project to a picnic in Hubbard Woods. The Graffs were there, and Harry Bernstein was there. You had Effie. We had a wonderful time at the beach.
RP: Those were nice days.
AB: I remember you had a bus come out. And then the party you gave the first year the Royal Ballet was in town. It was at the Racquet Club, and Margot Fonteyn wore a Dior dress and just floated in.
RP: I got a letter from her yesterday. She lives on a farm and Nureyev sent her a telegram asking her if she would come to Washington. He wanted her to see something and she wired back, "I can't possibly come, my favorite cow is sick." From Margot!
     Well, she always dressed marvelously. She really cared about dressing. She had so many beautiful dresses.
AB: That period at the Racquet Club. Your friends enjoyed it as much as you did.
RP: Well, you know how we happened to live there? We had a sort of studio apartment . . . .
AB: Loft.
RP: It was. That's what it was. That used to be 540 N. Michigan. And the room was beautiful, really just one big room. It was called Diana Court downstairs, and we had Remisoff paint Dianas all around there. Do you remember the room?
     Well, Harry Luce bought the building, and he said everybody had to get out, and he would get us apartments . . . or whatever stores were in there, he would get the same thing for us. Of course, you couldn't find anything like that. So we just stayed on and on. I think we paid $40 a month. Then they raised our rent to $50. Nobody wanted to live up there. You had to walk up two flights and everything. And so we just stayed on and then went off to Europe. And when we came back, all our clothes were gone. Everything was gone.
     So we went to the Racquet Club to live. We didn't have any place else to go. Tom played racquets all the time. My husband played racquets all the time. And so we lived there for two years. Tom sued Harry Luce and he won the case. So Harry Luce paid for all those parties we had at the Racquet Club, and he paid for all new clothes for me. And everybody was tickled to death.
AB: That was great. I remember a party at the loft. It was Thanksgiving and you had Patricia Bowman as guest artist in the opera ballets. And that was another thing, your opera ballets.
RP: Oh, yes. I think they were very interesting, don't you?
AB: Parties at the loft. Patricia Bowman was there, and her mother was with her at the time. You did Lakme.
RP: She did Lakme? Well, I've done every opera there is. I don't think I've missed any of them. A few, maybe. And I never mind doing them. I always liked doing them.
TF: You did a lot of good ones. [To AB] I'm curious about hearing you talk about seeing Ruth Page in Flapper and the Quarterback. What did you think, Ann?
AB: She wore what we called galoshes in those days, with buckles. She had rolled stockings, a sweater, a short skirt, a hat. Paul du Pont was the Quarterback. He wore shoulder pads . . . Ruth, you tell about it . . .
TF: No! You tell about it!
AB: . . . and a helmet. And it was very jazzy.
TF: What did you think of it, Ann? That was a most unusual kind of ballet.
AB: We have both been of the truly avant garde. I think dancing Americana was great.
TF: Was it shocking at all?
AB: No. Chicago was in the prairie part of the world . . . no prejudices. Ruth has done many avant garde things, and I don't think she ever shocked anyone, except Boston with Ravel's Bolero.
RP: Was it Boston?
TF: Yes [sic].
AB: Chicago liked her new things . . . Frankie and Johnny was avant garde.
RP: That was done for the WPA.
TF: When you saw Ruth dance -- we have almost no films -- the style, the personal style of the way she danced, can you describe it?
AB: Well, the thing that one remembers most is that she was very, very pretty. She was a beautiful, a very beautiful girl. Especially if you were a student, you noticed these little things -- she had wonderful arched feet; she was beautiful on her pointes. And that lovely face.
     She did do some academic things, but she always did new ideas. I have a vivid memory of American Pattern. That was about the American woman who was dissatisfied with life in the kitchen and she has adventures with a radical -- I remember Bentley -- but she finally finishes by battling with the broom.
RP: Isn't that sad?
TF: I think it's very sad.
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Chicago (production location of)