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Larry Long No. 03 [October 24, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0529
Run Time
0h 17m 59s
Date Produced
October 24 1985
Q: You frequently hear people say that Ruth was able to have a company because she personally was able to afford it. How would you respond to that?
A: Well, I think the whole idea of Ruth only having a company and only being a choreographer because she could afford to pay for everything herself is really patently ridiculous. I think, first of all, Ruth, from everything I've -- I didn't know Ruth when she was a little girl, contrary to appearances -- but everything I've read about, everything I've heard about Ruth, in speaking with Ruth, Ruth I'm sure was a creator from the time she was an absolute baby.
Q: True.
A: Yeah. That, that part. . . that's the beginning and the end of it. Ruth is a creator. Always has been. I don't think she's ever thought of herself in terms other than making dances. From the very beginning. I think she's thought of herself in lots of ways. She's . . . naturally, she's been a dancer. She's had a wonderful career doing other things besides making dances, but never once has she been without making dances. She's always made dances. And one doesn't make dances when one's a child because you can afford to make dances. You make dances from inside you. Because that's what you're about. You make dances. And I think, first of all, Ruth was not, if she is now, a tremendously wealthy, wealthy woman. Ruth was not always a wealthy woman.
Q: By no means.
A: But Ruth has always made dances. She's always made an effort to put things on. I know that, for example, when she did Hear Ye! Hear Ye!, which was a very early ballet in her career, she paid $150 to Aaron Copland for an original score. And I have seen letters at that time, written at that time, where she is commenting on the fact that $150 at that time was a lot of money for her. Nowadays one thinks $150 for an Aaron Copland score as almost ludicrously funny. At that time, it was quite a serious matter for Ruth to pay $150 to whomever for music. But she did it.
     I think that if one looks at the body of Ruth Page's work, of which there is an enormous amount, and a good portion of it recorded in some fashion, you have to say that here is an original mind, an original dance thinker, an original dance creator, regardless of whether she had money, or whether she didn't have money. In a way, it's almost a pity that she became more comfortable in her later years, because it's something I think that's interfered with people's perceptions of Ruth and her place in the dance world. I think people don't look at her objectively because she has rather more comfortable circumstances now than she might have once had.
Q: Do you think that she's, in general, under-appreciated?
A: Yes, I do.
Q: Why?
A: Why? I think she probably would have been appreciated more if she'd been in New York. And New York, particularly in her time, although it's not all that much different now, but, particularly in her time, if one did real creative work in New York, there were, first of all, people to appreciate, to chronicle their appreciation of it. That's where most of the dance press was, that's where the dance histories were written, where the archivists were, where the dance historians were. And it's where the majority of the activity was.
     So, if she had been there she would have been in the center, in the kind of hive where the most creative work took place. And I think because of that, if she had been there it would have all been chronicled. Her place would have been assured, because she would have been where all of the histories were written. I think that's one thing.
     I think Ruth, perhaps for personal reasons -- her marriage -- removed herself from that milieu. Although I will say this: Ruth probably did an awful lot of work, and I think is more greatly appreciated in Europe than she is in America. Because she really . . . . When she took Les Ballets Americans there for example, it was one of the first important incursions of American dance, uniquely, kind of generically, American dance to Europe . . . made a tremendous impression. And I think that her place in Europe is thought of as very different than her place in America.
     Aside from those two things, it's hard to say why she is under-appreciated. I think she definitely is under-appreciated. I think she, her works, have been underestimated, her talents have been underestimated and, well, things are getting better now because the works are being revived. And they're being revived well. Companies are really taking pains with them. And I think, for example, the many revivals that have been done of Frankie and Johnny and Merry Widow, two of her most popular and two very, very different works, add to it a lot. It's important that we do that, for example, so that someone can see those two works. They're absolutely on opposite ends of the poles, aesthetically, you know. Which is another thing that I think is not appreciated about Ruth.
     Every work that Ruth did had it's own dimension. Her work isn't seen as Ruth, that is "a Ruth Page ballet," because every Ruth Page ballet is different. Every Ruth Page ballet is what that particular ballet demands. They're not all like Merry Widow, they're not all like Frankie and Johnny. Frankie and Johnny is like Frankie and Johnny because Frankie and Johnny wouldn't be any other way. The same thing with Merry Widow. The same thing with Fledermaus. The same thing with any of her ballets. Each ballet is absolutely unique. It's what that ballet demands. And it's not just kind of a formula, that each ballet follows the same thing. You can see one and you say, "Oh, yes, that's Ruth Page." And you see another one and you say, "Well, that's, of course . . . ." You can tell that's Ruth Page. With hers you really can.
Q: I wondered about that, because unlike Balanchine or almost any choreographer that I can think of who finds a groove, gets into it, and stays there, Ruth didn't do that.
A: No. Not at all. In a way, I think probably she sees ballets like painters see a canvas. And I think that although -- I guess you can -- Renoir looks like a Renoir, and a Picasso looks like a Picasso, and so forth. But I think in a lot of ways, I think when a painter paints a canvas, that painting is that way because that painting demands to be that way. I think when a painter looks, if he's painting a landscape and he looks out into the countryside or something, I think what he sees at that moment dictates how that painting is physically put on canvas. I think if he saw it at a different time, it would reflect differently on the canvas. And I think that's the way Ruth did ballets. The way she was at that particular time, with that particular ballet, demanded and had to be executed in that particular way.
Q: Take it back in the other direction. Is there anything among the whole body of the work of which you're familiar that you can detect any one quality, characteristic, that flows through that would be equally true of say Oak Street Beach and Alice in Wonderland?
A: Oh, yes. I think Ruth is first and foremost a humanist. Yes. I don't think Ruth has done -- and I've performed in some ballets of Ruth's which she calls abstract or plotless ballets or . . . I guess that will suffice. But, whether she calls them abstract or plotless, they are always, always, always about humans; about relationships. There are always humanistic kinds of qualities about her, about her work, that go through, whether the ballet is a comic ballet, a dramatic ballet; they're always humanistic. They're always very personal. They're never cold. They're never detached. They're always human. They're not abstractions at all. And that is, I think, the first. . . that's the thing that characterizes all of her work, I think.
Q: Good. Take me, if you will, through the period, because you were certainly there and played an important role in it when the company ended and the school began.
A: The company actually ended a year before the company ended, if that makes any sense to you. Our last tour was 1969, and that year Tom was very, very ill. And at that time he, I think, advised Ruth that she probably shouldn't do that last tour because he wasn't able to assist her on the business end of handling the company. But Columbia . . . Ruth hesitated to. She really didn't want to close the company or disband the company at all. And Columbia talked Ruth, and probably Tom, into allowing them to kind of assume to a large extent Tom's duties for that last tour. We'd always had a company manager, but the responsibility of the company manager that last tour was greater because he had to assume some of the duties that Mr. Fisher did: making contracts and that sort of thing.
     And, I think, from the moment that transition took place, I think the company was really winding down, in Miss Page's estimation. I think she realized that the company could not be the same without Mr. Fisher. It wouldn't be the same for her, it wouldn't be the same for the company. He had so much influence on the company and his participation was so enormous in the day-to-day running of the company from a business standpoint. So we did that last tour, but at the end of that tour, I think it was quite evident to Miss Page that things couldn't kind of go on the way they were. And Tom was getting more and more ill. I think probably by that time she knew that the illness was terminal, and so at the end of that year, we were told that the company wouldn't be getting together next year, the following year.
     It was a tremendous blow to us, because, in a way, I don't think anybody really had ever thought they would be doing anything else. That there was no necessity for us to ever really go out and try to find another place. Most of us were fortunate and we did. My wife and I and Orrin secured places with the National Ballet of Washington, a company in Washington, D.C., directed by Frederic Franklin. We were there for a year, and then I went as ballet master to Harkness Ballet in New York City. And I was with them for a year. I came back in 1970, Christmas 1970. I came back from Europe to visit Dolores, she'd been with me in Europe a good part of the time, but she'd come back to Chicago. And I came back to visit. And while I was in Chicago, naturally, I saw Miss Page, and she said at the time, "Darling, why don't you come back to Chicago? Let's try to do something here. I've made a foundation." Which she had made, I believe, shortly after Mr. Fisher died. And she said, "We'll use the foundation, and we'll make us a wonderful school in Chicago. And we'll work toward having a company together, in conjunction with the school." So, this was in Christmas '70. So I went back to [Rebekah] Harkness and explained the situation to her . . . that I had decided to leave the company and came back.
     And in March of 1971 we opened the Ruth Page Foundation School of Dance, as an arm of the Ruth Page Foundation, in the Stevens Building downtown in the Loop. At the time, the last Nutcracker we had done, I think, was 1969 at McCormick Place. Actually it was at the Opera House; McCormick Place had burned down. And when she disbanded the company, there was no Nutcracker then for two years. But when I came back in March of '71, just about that time, I said, "Well, Miss Page, we're back now. What do you think about trying to get Nutcracker together?" She said, "I don't know, it's awfully early." This was March. We'd have to do it that December. We had no company at that time, but we did it. We got together a company, and we did resume doing Nutcracker then in 1971, Christmas '71, and have been doing it ever since.
     The company . . . the school grew enormously. We finally started a little company which Miss Page for the most part subsidized. We did school concerts and Sunday performances and in 1974, Miss Page and the Foundation bought the Moose Lodge at 1016 North Dearborn Street, where we sit today. And the rest is kind of from there.
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