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Ruth Page Lunch w/ Ann Barzel No. 02 [April 1, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0520
Run Time
0h 19m 27s
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: You asked about Tom. Tom was very involved in Ruth's career because this was a part of their life. She brought everything home. And they discussed the ballets. And he knew every dancer. He wrote the contracts, so he knew all the dancers. I don't know how much weight he threw around. He may or may not. . . that I don't know. But the fact is that he was there, and knew about it, and lived the life of all the arts: music, opera, dance. Her company was part of his life, too.
RP: Yes, I think so. And he was interested in, as you say, in all different kinds of things. He wasn't just only interested in dance and opera. But he was interested in everything. Every subject. He knew more about dancing after a month of living with me than I did. Because he had the gift of gab; he was a great talker, a wonderful talker.
TF: [Personally, how would you say that he . . . ] How would you characterize how he felt about Ruth?
AB: He adored Ruth. He was very protective, and if anybody wrote something that he didn't approve of . . . . Now, he wrote a famous letter which I wish I had a copy of, when the Ford Foundation gave millions of dollars to the School of American Ballet, the New York City Ballet, to ballet companies which were satellites of Balanchine. He wrote this very strong letter, saying that this was going to kill a great deal of creativeness in America; that it was going to stamp -- I don't recall what his figure of speech was -- it was as if Picasso was so great that every art school had to teach everybody to paint like Picasso, and that pretty soon, everybody would have to dance Balanchine ballets, and that that would become the criterion. And isn't that happening?
RP: And he was right.
AB: Now this is 12-15 [sic] years ago, and exactly his logic was there.
TF: When Ruth was involved in the founding of the Chicago Ballet, she got up and made a little speech at a party given by the Maremonts, I think. That was a fundraising party . . . .
AB: Where was the party held?
TF: I'm not sure, but you wrote about it, and you said the advice that Ruth Page had for a ballet company was "to be adventuresome and be chic." Do you remember that? What do you think she meant by that?
RP: I don't remember that.
AB: What was that last word? I didn't understand.
RP: Be chic.
AB: Well "chic" isn't if you're going just to be adventuresome and be as the hippies were at the time -- it will look like a rummage sale, not only physically but the dancing -- but to have a sense of theatricality. Yes, I remember that.
RP: I don't remember that at all.
AB: Yes, I remember that now, very clearly. That was a very good phrase to say . . .
TF: It's good advice.
AB: . . . because that was what her ballets always were, they were "adventuresome," and, there was a certain kind of "chic" to it. That doesn't mean it was trivial. "Chic" is not necessarily trivial. Some of her things had great depth. They don't have to. Now the Ravel had great "chic" and had some depth. It was very strong satire on what was being done with the psychedelic stuff, although it still could be done today.
TF: If you could change one thing about your friend Ruth Page, what would it be?
AB: About her, herself?
TF: Yes.
AB: Every person is a wholeness of themselves. If you change something, it would no longer be the Ruth Page that we take with all her charms, her assets. There are some liabilities . . . that makes the whole thing. Like an apple . . . . You just don't take out every single bit of green and yellow because you want it all bright red. No, it makes it an apple because it has all these various elements in it. It wouldn't be Ruth Page if I say I wanted her to have red hair, because I like red hair, or I'd like her to be taller. That has nothing to do with it. This is the Ruth Page that we have accepted . . . the total picture. To change the picture, it's too late.
TF: If you could change one thing about yourself, Ruth, what would it be?
RP: Oh, I would be much more aggressive, much nastier.
TF: What do you mean, "nastier"?
RP: Oh, I would say what I really think about people. I don't; I keep it to myself. But I think it would be much better if I just said what I really thought about people. I don't do that because I don't like to hurt people's feelings. I'm too nice. I'm much too nice.
AB: I'm always being told that people walk all over me, but I wouldn't feel better if I did the other. I feel good because it makes me feel superior.
RP: You're much too nice to people, too, I think.
AB: I know, but that's what makes me feel good. Okay, I think, step on me if you want to, you won't, can't, hurt me.
RP: I would hate to be a dance critic. I wouldn't be a dance critic for anything on earth.
AB: I'm really not a dance critic. I'm a dance reviewer. Criticism implies finding fault, and you can easily have a sentence or two of that. And I don't believe in "constructive criticism." That's up to the teacher. If I'm going to tell, this so-called "constructive" criticism, write them a letter about it. What makes you think you saw this in an hour and a half, and they [the choreographer/dancers] didn't think of it in the two years they thought it over before they did it?
TF: That's a very interesting notion. So what you're saying is that if you're going to make constructive criticism, write them a letter.
AB: Write them a letter and tell them about it if you thought of something. I have thought of ideas. Gerald Arpino of the Joffrey Ballet and his ballet Jamboree . . . [I wrote to him] I think the stage looks empty with just the gray cyclorama and only a pas de deux. I said take that front curtain and put it in back and see how it would look. That's constructive. I didn't write it in the paper. I said to him, "try it."
TF: Why couldn't you be a critic, Ruth? You certainly know a lot about ballet.
RP: Well, I don't like to write about ballet like that. I don't like to be a critic. I like to write more abstractly. I like to write, but I don't like to be a critic at all. I don't like to criticize things when I write. I like to write about all kinds of other things besides dance. You read these articles, they're not about dance . . . very little about dance.
TF: When you go to see a ballet, what are you looking for, Ruth?
RP: Perfection! Which you rarely get. There are very few ballet companies where you can go and say I like everything. I think maybe Paul Taylor comes close. I like most of the things he does. And Balanchine, of course. But there are very few companies you can really say are "perfect." Something is always wrong: either the dancers or the music or the lights. There are so many different elements. It isn't like writing, where you did it all by yourself, and that's it. You have to have an artist, you have to have music, you have to have good dancers, good choreography, you have to have a good stage, a good place to do it. You have to have a good audience. So you have to have so much that it can practically never be perfect. And you seldom get that.
     There's no perfect theatre here for dance, really. McCormick Place is too big. And the Opera House has that long narrow tunnel. I hate that Opera House for dancing. The little theatre is nice there, the Civic Theatre, but you can't make any money if you go there. So there isn't an ideal theatre. I wish we had a whole new theatre center here. I think we need one here in Chicago, like they have in New York. New York has the Metropolitan there, and they will certainly do something eventually with that Beaumont Theatre. And I think that's what we need here in Chicago. We have to work on that. They won't get it in my day, but I hope some day they'll get it.
TF: Has there ever been a performance of one of your ballets that was perfect?
RP: I like the way Peter Martins did my Merry Widow very much. I don't think so. I've never had a perfect performance, I don't think. I think they did Carmina Burana as well as anything, because that doesn't require virtuosity in one or two people, the whole ballet has to be good. And I think they did that very well. No, I have never seen a perfect production of my ballets.
TF: So most of the time, or all of it, when you leave the theatre after it's over . . . .
RP: Well, I go around and tell the dancers what was wrong. I always do that -- talk to the people who did the leading parts. But that's not being a dance critic. I just go around . . . .
TF: But you never leave with the feeling of, "Well, tonight. . . ."
RP: Well, sometimes it's funny. I remember Marjorie Tallchief gave a marvelous performance -- I think it was in The Merry Widow. I forget what -- and her father was there standing in the wings -- a great big Indian, you know. And I went, "Weren't you thrilled with Marjorie?" He went, "Ugh!" I thought that was very Indian!
AB: Another funny time was at dress rehearsal which she did . . . in the Eighth Street Theatre with Marjorie, and she did a wonderful performance and when it was all over, Kenneth Johnson, who had a great sense of humor, shouted across the thing, "Don't call us, we'll call you." There were a few moments of quiet at first, and then . . . .
TF: When you see the works of other choreographers, do you think, "I can see the influence of my work in that."
RP: Yes, I do. I think what's his name, Mejia's Romeo and Juliet was sort of influenced very much by mine.
TF: Who else as a typical choreographer?
RP: I can't think of any right now.
AB: I think Larry [Long] did something, very purposely though, [with] steps of Frankie and Johnny and some of the score, and did it as an abstract jazz ballet for twelve dancers. That was very clever. Some of the steps multiplied by 12 had a different sort of interest, completely.
RP: Yes, that was very clever.
TF: What would you say was Ruth's influence on other choreographers? What has Ruth's influence been on American dance?
AB: All through her Americana period, people saw what she did and went into the Americana thing of hers . . . . Some from her company went on. What was his name, Bud something-or-other [Tygett] and his friend; and certainly Anna Baker and her husband Barry Vancuro, who now have a company called the Chattanooga Ballet. Certainly the years they were with Ruth have influenced the things they are doing.
TF: In what aspect was Ruth a leader?
AB: Well, she was the first to use American themes; she was the first to commission a score from Copland; she was the first to use black dancers; she was the first to use designers such as Noguchi, Leonor Fini, Wakhevitch, Clavé. She was a leader in all of those things. Also a leader in certain dancers who she brought in, either as guest artists or who developed inside her company. All these things that had repercussions on the art as a whole.
TF: Is she important? Do you feel important?
RP: Yes, sure. I'm not half-appreciated enough, I don't think. I really mean that.
AB: Well, just to show you, I was just in Norman, Oklahoma -- I bet you've never been there. Anyway, it was a college dance conference and when people said, "Ann Barzel of Chicago," they said, "What's Ruth Page doing now?" That happens. I was in New York a couple of weeks ago in a lobby, "What's Ruth Page doing?" Certainly it happens when you go to Paris or London or Germany or whatever. Dance in Chicago is epitomized by Ruth Page.
RP: But Chicago's never let me do anything except . . . .
AB: Oh, yes. I tell them Ruth has just taped Alice based on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Her Merry Widow is being done in Miami and Tulsa. Ruth has written a book, and Andy Wentink is gathering her correspondence. Ruth's doing a lot . . . .
TF: Fledermaus is being done in Tulsa . . . .
AB: Oh, Tulsa's doing it? That's a fun one isn't it?
RP: I'm glad they're reviving it, because you can't let them sit too long.
AB: That was done by, was it WGN or CBS? That was done on TV. It was before there was color. It's black and white.
RP: . . . and there's a man talking in it all the time which sort of spoils it, but it's better than having nothing. That was Channel 11, wasn't it? Didn't they do it?
AB: CBS Workshop did Carmen, the one with Patty Klekovic and Kenneth. That's wonderful. I taped it. That's wonderfully well-done. First of all, it's a wonderful ballet. That was -- it wasn't André Delfau's decor. It was . . . .
RP: For who?
AB: Carmen -- Daydé.
RP: Daydé. Daydé did the third Carmen. Delfau did the fourth one.
AB: Kenneth was wonderful in that. So was Patty.
RP: Yes, they were.
AB: So were the corps people. Also the Death figure. That was Bob Boehm, who died.
     Now, how many great dancers were brought to Chicago because Ruth brought them in? Everybody from Rudolph Nureyev, Erik Bruhn, Josette Amiel, Flemming Flindt, Henning Kronstam, Sonia Arova and on and on and on. You realize these people were seen with the Ruth Page company because she brought them . . . aside from developing [dancers] within the city. Now that certainly has contributed to the total arts experience of the people here.
TF: Of Ruth as a dancer, who do you say was Ruth's best partner?
AB: Kreutzberg. Bentley Stone was very good also. But there was a certain thing in Kreutzberg. You see Bentley was a very, very strong technician, really a great one. They really worked together well. I'm not going to demean his work, but something about Kreutzberg being a free spirit and Ruth being a free spirit that seemed to work. Right?
RP: Yes. I loved dancing with him. Of course, I adored Bentley, too. Bentley was a great partner, as Ann says. I don't think he was half-appreciated here. Well, Kreutzberg, he was so famous. I always felt honored that he wanted to dance with me, and I loved dancing with him. Who did he dance with after that? I can't remember.
AB: Yvonne Georgi was before you. Tilly Losch and Georgi and you were the only partners he had.
TF: Did you ever see Ruth dance with Adolph Bolm?
AB: Yes, but that I don't remember too well at all.
RP: I was his pupil.
AB: It's very unclear. I never saw Birthday of the Infanta, but I read about it, the one where he was the Dwarf and you were the Princess. But even in the Allied Arts, you did dance with Mark Turbyfill, but I don't remember that clearly.
RP: He did that Chinese thing [The Rivals] with Bolm.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)