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Ruth Page Lunch w/ Ann Barzel No. 19 [April 1, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0517
Run Time
0h 19m 37s
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).
AB: . . . Her school is[n't] the newest thing. She has always developed dancers. Hardly a dancer came out of Chicago that didn't go through one of Ruth's ballet companies. Currently at the school, she's crazy about it and the kids are crazy about her, even though she doesn't actually teach them.
TF: It seems the people who are in Ruth's ballets and in her ballet companies are like family. . . . Larry Long, Dolores Lipinski . . . .
AB: Orrin Kayan. All those of that era, certainly, but it goes back even further. What's the one whose wedding we went to in Nashville, Tennessee? We went to a regional festival, and one of your former dancers was married to someone very well-to-do, had a big plantation in Nashville.
RP: Virginia Nugent was it?
AB: Ginny Nugent!
RP: I remember now.
AB: And when her former roommate was being married, she gave her the wedding there. Remember the horse and the white lilacs?
RP: It was very horsey.
AB: And the white lilacs and the whole bit. Mary Gehr and all that group are still friendly with her [Ruth] . . . people that go way back.
TF: Ruth, I think, was always good to her dancers. The things that people always say about you are very nice. They always have nice things to say about you.
RP: I'm glad to hear that. My husband always tells me I don't have any friends!
AB: She never bears any rancor. A dancer may leave, and she'll take them back. Anything that happens . . . she is so open to everything.
TF: She doesn't know how to hold a grudge?
AB: That's correct. I'm not going to mention anyone. Also there are many people now, that she has . . . . She watches the kids in the class, or she has given scholarships out to. The best male dancer in Chicago City Ballet, the young black boy, Kip Sturm, whom she brought up from the beginning. She has no feeling that he's gone to a rival, because it's not a rival. Nothing's a rival. Everything is part of the general picture.
TF: It's a wonderful quality.
AB: Do tell about your writing as a youngster. You wrote so much . . . those little poems in Page by Page.
RP: Oh, yes. I used to write poems, but they are not very good, I assure you.
TF: She's got some sizzling love poems that she wrote . . . .
AB: This new book in the making called Letters has two kinds. Ruth wrote letters that are wonderful.
RP: Oh, Andy Wentink's doing that book. He has found all these letters at the Museum of Modem . . . Performing Arts library in New York. He's going through them. I don't know why I left them to the Museum of Modern Art [sic]. I don't know why I kept them, even, but fortunately I did because they are awfully interesting letters.
TF: You wrote some wonderful letters.
RP: Well, these were just letters to me.
AB: Thornton Wilder, and who was that French architect . . . . I remember seeing them when they had that exhibit at the Library of the Performing Arts. He was there when you were with your company in Paris.
RP: Larionov?
AB: No.
RP: Gontcharova?
AB: No. A Frenchman.
RP: Andy's going through all those letters and trying to make a book out of them . . . .
AB: Le Corbusier!
RP: Corbusier.
TF: Has Andy seen the new things, the most recent things that you've written which I read last week?
RP: I don't know if he's seen those or not.
TF: I should send him copies because there are some really, really good things there to include.
RP: You know, the reason he's so good is that he worked there at the Library of the Performing Arts for a long time. He cataloged everything, not only my things, but everybody's. And he remembers them, and whenever I want to find out anything about myself, I just call Andy. I really do, because I can't remember them.
AB: He's a great scholar.
RP: He is.
TF: Very meticulous. We couldn't have done this project we're doing without Andy, because of the dates and the chronologies that he's done. It's Andy's research that paves the way.
AB: Do you realize in how many things Ruth was the first? Like the first Americana theme, before Frankie and Johnny, the Flapper and the Quarterback. The first to use, to make an all-black ballet, La Guiablesse; the first to use Noguchi with three-dimensional decor.
RP: I just had an invitation . . .
AB: The first to have Aaron Copland . . .
RP: . . . for Noguchi on Long Island -- they're devoting a museum, they're making a museum just for Noguchi -- coming up soon. I was so surprised.
TF: Are you going to go?
RP: Oh, probably not. I don't know. I'll see. I'm getting used to staying home, now, and I kind of like it.
AB: . . . also to commission a ballet by Aaron Copland. There's a lot of firsts.
TF: First American to dance with the Ballets Russes -- the first and only . . . .
RP: The Diaghilev company.
AB: Anna Ludmila had a contract, but Diaghilev died before she could dance [for] him.
TF: I also think Ruth was among the first who had the courage to use words and dance together.
AB: Well, Mark Turbyfill did it, but she did it differently. I mean, every ballet she did, she didn't think, "Was it done?" but, "Is this going to be good?"
TF: Do you remember the first performance of Billy Sunday?
AB: Oh, sure. It was at Mandel Hall. You remember that.
RP: I remember that.
RP: That was with Jerome Andrews. He was still in that, and Margaret James and Richard France. Oh, sure.
RP: You remember all the names!
TF: This was a ballet that had trouble getting born. Not that Ruth was having creative difficulties, but with the music . . . .
AB: Remi Gassmann was involved, and Ray Hunt who was the Feature Editor of the Chicago Times wrote the narrative. Oh, sure. I remember that. That was something.
TF: And the Lyric Opera ballets. Do you remember when Ruth in the fourth act of Carmen, she just inserted Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo?
AB: No, I don't remember that. But at the Lyric Opera, I do remember that she did special galas. Like The Merry Widow was first done with Alicia Markova and Oleg Briansky, and a couple of years later, another time Merry Widow was done with Nureyev and Arova, and one of the Can-Can girls [in 1955] was Carol Oria, later Carol Lawrence. A wonderful thing with Lyric Opera was another one with Carol Lawrence, too. It was based on an eighteenth century thing. I'll think of the name later. It was a mixed opera and ballet.
RP: Not Carmina Burana?
AB: No, that was with Harald Kreutzberg. He came back for Carmina Burana. I'll think of it later and call you up at midnight.
TF: Alice in Wonderland . . . .
AB: Oh, that I've seen many times, in Jacob's Pillow, with Joyce Cuoco, and in Pittsburgh with -- who was that nice girl who was later in the Winnepeg? -- and here with Anna Baker and then the movie, the taping with Kathy Healy.
TF: Did you ever see Revenge?
AB: Of course. I saw it several places. It was first done at Mandel Hall with Helene Musil, and then afterward with Ruth Ann Koesun when they took it to Broadway.
TF: There is no record of the Revenge ballet. Nobody ever made a film of it [sic]. But from everything I've heard about it and from our conversations, it was one of Ruth's best ballets. What can you tell us about it?
AB: Well, it was a very good one. Both Billy and Sheila Reilly were in it at Mandel Hall. She did the Witch, the mother; he did . . . .
RP: Manrico.
AB: That was a very good one. Didn't I take some movies for you then . . .
RP: Probably.
AB: . . . those silent ones, I used to do for you?
RP: Yes.
TF: You used to do movies, Ann?
AB: Very amateurish 16mm films, silent. I did some of her earliest ones down there at Mandel Hall. I think they're in the vault.
RP: They're primitive.
AB: They're not complete. You see what I did was I'd have to wind and push, wind and push the button. They're bits and pieces, but they do give feeling of the atmosphere.
TF: That's so important because without films, there's no way to know what a ballet looked like.
AB: That's what I decided. I'd read about Nijinsky. How did he dance? The motion picture had already been invented, and there's not one inch of Nijinsky, not one inch of Duncan. There are some interesting ones of Pavlova made by stagehands, but they're jumpy. Mine aren't very good, but they do give a feeling of an artist in rapport with the audience. A few feet of how they moved. They're not good for preserving choreography . . .
TF: Because of the way that you did them . . . .
AB: . . . because I couldn't afford to have taken it. Who could have afforded that much film? I'd wait for something . . . do a big arabesque.
RP: We have one of The Nutcracker, I think. I think we have the whole thing.
AB: Bits of The Nutcracker, yes.
RP: No, I think we have the whole thing.
TF: I think you do, too. It's just a record tape, but you can see it.
RP: They don't last, these films. That's the trouble. I've got a whole lot of them in my closet, that I don't even dare . . . . They fall apart. I thought if you put Protecto on them . . . . I had them all Protectoed, and it doesn't do any good; they fall right apart.
AB: Also I have a wonderful one of Carmen . . . with Patricia Klekovic . . . .
TF: Which one?
RP: The last one, I guess [sic].
AB: The one that was done with the Chicago Opera Ballet or the Ruth Page International Ballet.
RP: No, that was the third one that I did.
AB: The one that was made with Patricia Klekovic, Johnson, and Orrin did the Escamillo.
TF: So we do have that Carmen. The best way to protect them is to transfer them to videotape, and maybe we should look and do some of them. We should take a look at them, and we should do them.
AB: Get a grant from the Newberry. I have a lot of stuff there.
RP: That's for you; they haven't got a grant for me.
TF: You saw The Nutcracker, that was first done in 1965. That was a big event.
AB: Of course it was. That's when Henning and Kirsten did the leads and Patty Klekovic did Snow with Kenneth and the little Nutcracker Prince was Dean Batalado. He's now on Broadway. It'd be interesting to go back to all those youngsters. Many of those youngsters who were in the children's thing later became dancers.
RP: And we had one person over there who was a child, and then a parent, and then finally he dances the Grand Pas de Deux, but then he danced Snow and then the Grand Pas de Deux. So he danced in everything -- all the way up.
TF: All the way up. Ann, . . . which of Ruth's ballets is your favorite?
AB: Well, wait a minute. I think Carmen, the last version, is one of my favorites. And Merry Widow. Oh, I know, Fledermaus. I love Fledermaus. And another one, which I wish she would do again, but can't because of copyright problems, was called "something and Bon Bons." But it's George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman, which was also made into The Chocolate Soldier, that was when Oscar Strauss or whatever made it into a musical. But it's based on George Bernard Shaw's play. And it's very clever.
RP: I'd like to revive that, Bullets and Bon Bons.
AB: The title had to be changed, but it made no difference. I think Ruth used humor in that one very well. I think the Carmen is very well constructed, in showing the motivations that made this middle-class soldier obsessed with this girl -- and how destroyed he became at the end. In that, she also had some wonderful dramatic devices, such as Carmen has this little scarf. He uses it to tie her hands up, and of course, she gets out, and at the end, he strangles her with it. So that the physical item figures all the way through.
RP: Well, after doing four different versions of Carmen, I've had enough of Carmen. I'm not going to do any more Carmens.
AB: Another was called Guns and Castanets. She always did whatever was timely at the moment. The Spanish Civil War was the big thing. Some of those people at WPA, including Pearl Lang, who was a modem dancer; she was there. David Nilo, who went to Ballet Theatre, and Johnny Kriza was with Ruth for a while. Ruth Ann Koesun. Everybody who went out of Chicago.
     The great thing about Ruth Page's company was that she did not have a school; that there were open auditions and every dance student in Chicago felt that, "When I hope to be a professional, there's an open audition." And let nobody tell you you have to have a school in order to have a company, that they all have to dance alike. That's just as stupid as to say all the violinists in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra have to have the same teacher. And it's the same thing as saying the company has to have a style. No, it doesn't. The style varies with every choreography. The style of Les Sylphides? Fokine had one style. The style of Scheherezade, which Fokine also choreographed, has another style. The ballet dictates the style.
TF: Not the choreographer?
AB: No. Well, the choreographer does, but . . . . Balanchine made many ballets that were similar and that you can recognize. But you certainly wouldn't say a "Frederick Ashton style." Think of all the ballets he made for Margot Fonteyn. They weren't the same. There's not a "Ruth Page style." Frankie and Johnny was not the same, not even the same vocabulary as that with which she made Carmen.
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Chicago (production location of)