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Larry Long No. 04 [October 24, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0530
Run Time
0h 18m 35s
Date Produced
October 24 1985
Q: Tell me about the tours to the schools that you were doing, where Ruth would give a narration, and you would have to dance. Would you describe those to me, please.
A: You know, they're almost indescribable. First of all, nobody would believe them. One of the activities when we first started the "new" Chicago Ballet, as it were, was to do a whole tour. I think we did sixty-five performances in the Chicago public school system. We used to do two a day. The first one usually was first period which was 8:20 in the morning. And Ruth said, "We'll do just a simple little program, nothing, you know, extravagant. We'll do Sleeping Beauty pas de deux, and we'll do the pas de deux from Carmina Burana (from the Spring scene), and we'll do a little class and a little adagio." And I mean she thought up a program that would kill an elephant. It really would at 8:20 in the morning.
     Well, my wife Dolores was doing the classical things. Well, of course, we lived together -- being married -- then that meant I had to get up at 5:00 with her while she put on full makeup and all, did a warm-up for an 8:00 pas de deux. That was really disastrous. It wasn't disastrous, it was wonderful, but it was hard to get through. So anyway, we would get to these theaters -- what theaters? -- schools -- occasionally, actually, they were really nice theaters, as a matter of fact; but sometimes they weren't -- get there at 8:20 and do an hour program.
     Miss Page absolutely, always, no matter what school, whether it was a suburban school, an inner-city school, middle class school, kind of an urban environment school, didn't matter, she had them in the palm of her hand. She wore an Yves St. Laurent Lord Fauntleroy outfit. Well, then she took the stage, as she did before, because she began with the narration and told them a little bit about the history of dance and how it all started -- from her very special point of view and in a very amusing fashion. She was just an immediate hit. She was very much the star of the performance. She really was. Deservedly so. She was quite wonderful.
    And then we would do this: we'd do a little bit of a barre and a little bit of center and then we would just do excerpts from things. We did a classical pas de deux. As I said earlier, either Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty, which is very difficult to do at 8:20 in the morning. We'd do the little Spring pas de deux from Carmina Burana. One of the girls did a wonderful solo that Miss Page had done, choreographed for herself, called Delirious Delusions, which was kind of a Dali. She wore a costume that was a dress on one side and no dress on the other, and she had a great huge eye on her stomach, and she did it with a false arm and an empty picture frame. It was absolutely wonderful. And we did sixty, sixty-five I think, of those. Having lunch in the schools, you know. With all the people coming around, the young people coming around Miss Page. They were really, really unique. They really were. She was wonderful.
Q: Why . . . why were you doing them?
A: Well, the company earned money doing them. Ruth was the sole support of this new venture called Chicago Ballet, and I think we got quite a minimal amount of money, but we did get something, which was toward the support of the dancers. I think there were six of us who did these, six or eight of us who did these performances with her. And it was just a little bit of income, little bit extra into the coffer, you know. It enabled us to hire some dancers, which made it possible then for us to do that Nutcracker I was talking about -- the first one again when we had no company yet, really. And the most important reason why was that Miss Page felt we should do it.
     The same way she felt we should go to Leadville, Colorado, and Beeville, Texas. It was the thing one should do. It's not enough to be a dancer if you don't dance. To be a dancer, one must dance. To be a choreographer, one must choreograph. It was: we should do that. It was a responsibility we had. She took it quite seriously. She was wonderful in it and very amusing, but it wasn't something that she took lightly. She was quite serious about them. And I think that's why we did it. Because we should do it. It was a responsibility to educate, and a responsibility to actually practice the craft. And I think that Ruth isn't one to sit back. You should be doing something. It's kind of puritan, I think, in a way. I don't know if she'd really appreciate that description at all. But, you know, I think it harkens back to her roots.
Q: It's Midwestern.
A: It's very Midwestern, right. I don't know if she'd appreciate that either. But, it's true; one should be doing something, not just kind of coasting. That's contrary to her nature.
Q: Describe, if you will, the growth pattern in the history of the school.
A: Well, we started the school literally with nothing. We had a studio, we had banes and minors, and very few students. No children whatsoever. It finally got so bad that I talked to Miss Page, and with her agreement, I went to a group called Urban Gateways in Chicago, headed by a lady named Gertrude Guthman, a wonderful lady. And we made an anangement where I would go to various schools and audition children in the Chicago public school system, and select suitable children who showed an interest and some aptitude with no training whatsoever to come to the school, to the Loop, and study dance. They got two lessons a week: one modem class, one ballet class. We paid for all of their shoes and leotards and tights. We made sure that they had something for after the class -- a carton of milk and cookies or a graham cracker or something. And we also paid for an escort to bring them down.
     Now this was . . . I adored this program. To me this was, I think, one of the most stupendous things the school has ever done, because so many of these children had never -- none of them -- had ever seen a ballet before; that was taken for granted. But you'd be surprised at the number of them who'd never been downtown in the Loop before. Who'd never been on the subway before. Now, these are urban children, who spent their lives in the second largest city in the United States, I guess, and they've never been on the subway, they've never been on a bus, they've never been downtown in the Loop. So they were getting a wide range of cultural experiences -- not only to dance, but cultural, in the real sense of cultural, a real cultural experience in coming downtown and seeing what this place was all about.
     And they were the most wonderful children, the most incredible children I've ever seen in my life. So avid. For four years we picked, I think, we would pick about forty children. Naturally there'd be some attrition before the first class, but we usually ended up with about 25-26 children at the beginning of each season. The most fantastic children, the most open children, the most enthusiastic children. And strangely enough, from the very first group that we got, there were three wonderful children. Exceptionally talented children. One little girl, Annette Jackson was her name, stayed with us for about ten years, until she finally decided not to dance and go to college. But she turned out to be a lovely, lovely dancer. Then we had two wonderful young men, Donald Williams was one, and, for the life of me, I can't think of the other young man's name right now.
     One of those first years of Chicago Ballet we did a program in conjunction with the Dance Theatre of Harlem in a program called "Dances of Love and Death." The Harlem Ballet did Ruth's Carmen, which was a version especially made for their company, and we did Carmina Burana, and then we did a pas de deux of Ben Stevenson called Three Preludes. And while he [Arthur Mitchell] was here with his company doing that program, he came to watch the children's class and picked those three young people to go on a summer scholarship to his school in New York, which he just then started. Now one of those boys, the only one who's still  dancing . . . but still one of those boys is the leading dancer, the leading male dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem, Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem -- Williams, Donald Williams. And he's coming back to Chicago this Christmas to dance the lead in the McCormick Place Nutcracker this year. Now that's . . . when you think, all right, that's a group of twenty-six, and out of that twenty-six, three had real promise, did something, and one made it, kind of. Sounds that the odds -- one out of twenty-five . . . not so hot. But for dancers, you can't imagine what a tremendous . . . .
Q: Yeah, it's a big deal.
A: It's a big deal. And he did it. And to kind of come full circle that way. That's the kind of joy, that's the kind of thing that has made this school, I hope, a special place and will continue to make the school a special place.
     At any rate, we're talking about the school. The school was three years in the Stevens building. At the end of those three years, the company had grown. We had only one studio at the school. It wasn't possible to continue everything in one rather small, confined space. Prospects for Chicago Ballet at that time seemed quite happy and objective and enthusiastic, and everybody felt, well, okay, it's time we look for a more permanent place, one that will give us the possibility of greater scope, more activity. And I happened to find this . . . .
Q: Oh, you found this building?
A: I found this building. I tell Miss Page that I found it for my sins, that's what I did.
Q: Tell about this building.
A: This building I found. I was just riding a bus one day, and I looked up, and this kind of strange place -- it looked like a gothic castle or something from the outside -- and I saw a "for sale" sign. We'd looked . . . I'd looked at several other places, and when I'd find something that I think would be a little, you know, . . . I'd show it to Miss Page, and one reason or another, things just weren't right. Well, I told her finally about the Moose Lodge. The title amused her no end. The Moose Lodge as a dance academy, if you can imagine. Well, anyway, we bought it. She bought it. The Foundation bought it. Somebody bought it. And we ended up here in the summer of 1974. When she bought it, there were seven bars in the building. Now, and I don't mean B-A-double-R-E. I mean B-A-R. Those Moose might have done a lot of things, but they were wet.
     So we had lots of remodeling to do to make the place suitable for us. So we remodeled all seven bars. And I remember when we were going through the building with the architect at one time, saying, "Well, now, this bar, this room will be the library, and we'll take the bar out of here, and this is going to the theater, and we'll take the bar out of there, and this is the balcony of the theater, and we won't need a bar here because we'll put seats here, and this is going to be a studio, and so we'll take this bar out, and there's two rooms upstairs -- each had a bar -- and we'll take those out 'cause we'll make those one studio." And Miss Page kept saying, "But you're taking out all these wonderful bars. I mean, where are you going to put your purse when you do class?" We did leave some bars . . . one.
Q: Now, today the school has how many students?
A: The school now has about 420 students, which is quite large, but manageable. We have about forty students on full scholarship, about twenty on half-scholarship, and about fifteen on work scholarship, which means they do a little something around the building to help, to justify their scholarship. The full scholarships are generally people who start at the school at a relatively young age, show a lot of talent, and have continued up through the school now mostly in the advanced classes or the more advanced classes.
     We have seven teachers on the faculty, five pianists. We have four studios. A little theater, which is an experimental-type theater which seats 250 people. A canteen down where one of the bars was. We have a canteen which serves the building. And the building has become, the school and the building has become more than simply a ballet school. It's become, I hope, a kind of center and hub of arts in Chicago.
     Miss Page has really bent over backwards. She is, thank heaven, very interested in the school and in the progress of school and the place the school will kind of take in the culture community in Chicago, and has instigated all kinds of things. She did sponsor a wonderful lecture series a couple of years back -- a series of six lectures which included Anton Dolin and Margot Fonteyn, John Gruen, Anna Kisselgoff -- wonderful things like that. We have an opera company, which performs for two months out of the year in the school. We have music lessons which are taught in the school. We have drama lessons which are taught in the school. We have a full time therapist at the school, who teaches therapy and corrective exercises for dancers at the school. We have a full range of dance activities going on at the school: ballet, pointe, modern, character, tap, jazz.
     And I think this school has become more than simply a little kind of parochial establishment. I can only see its place expand in the future, I hope. We've been very lucky with the students. The school having started in 1971, so it's about fourteen years old total now. In that fourteen years, this school has placed dancers in American Ballet Theatre, in the Milwaukee Ballet, in the Dallas Ballet, in the San Francisco Ballet, in Joffrey's company, in the Washington Ballet, in the Cincinnati Ballet. We have a very, very good record, you know. It's very gratifying.
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Chicago (production location of)