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André Delfau Interview No. 05 [October 24, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0536
Run Time
0h 18m 43s
Date Produced
October 24 1985
Q: How would you compare Ruth's choreography to the direction in which she chose to go? Are you familiar with anything about her early ballets?
A: Of course, yes, of course.
Q: What would you say -- as you say, is so much . . . to trace someone else's artistic development than to trace your own -- how would you trace Ruth's artistic development?
A: Ah, I think she began as very modern, because she was young and full of pep. And so she had this classical training, but she was thinking modern. And it was a period in America where it was . . . something was in the air about American life, and she made some small ballets, because she has not a big company. And she danced herself a lot alone or with some partners. And she created -- it was easy, of course, to create things in this way -- she created a lot of images of American life because she felt like that. She made a ballet about Oak Street Beach, you see, because it was something that happened to her.
Q: And then?
A: And then the evolution . . . . But it was for a long time she made ballets about what happened, actually. Like the first Carmen she made was about the civil war in Spain, and the civil war was still there when she made the ballet. And so she was related to life. And Frankie and Johnny and Billy Sunday, they are all related to life, life in America and life at this period. And there was a change after the war, and she became interested in opera. And she became interested in Europe, and she became interested in music, which was not music of our period but of other periods. And so her ballets became more based on European things, things of the past.
Q: Would you say that she went from being modern to more romantic?
A: Yes. I would say that.
Q: Why would you think that happened?
A: How could we . . . . It's impossible to me. I mean, it's an evolution and it came naturally. And she had [to] in order to keep a company, or she had to dance for the opera to dance in the ballets in the opera. And I suppose it introduced her to a world of music and stories which were more European of course.
Q: Although, André, she had really started doing it at Ravinia, you know, choreography for the operas at Ravinia in 1926.
A: Yes, but the events came after. It was an evolution. It was an evolution. She decided one day that she was more interested in this kind of thing. And it was successful, so . . . .
Q: Do you think that her artistic development, the direction that her choreography took, would have been different if she had lived in New York?
A: Nobody could say. Nobody could say what would have happened to Ruth if she had a New York career. Nobody could say that. Nobody could say. How could . . . .
Q: You can't really say that about anybody.
A: No. How could you? She was a creative artist. She would have created something, but I don't know what. She, even herself, she couldn't say, of course.
Q: Do you think that you're designing for theatre and opera and ballet, especially, would have taken a different turn if you had not started this collaboration, as it were, with Ruth? [PAUSE] It's the same question, same answer. You don't know, yeah.
A: It's the same question.
Q: What influence do you think Tom Fisher had on Ruth's artistic development?
A: I don't think he had any.
Q: None?
A: None. I don't think so. Noguchi had.
Q: What would you say was Noguchi's influence?
A: Modern.
Q: Kreutzberg?
A: But she was already modern before she met Noguchi. But he made very, very modern, very avant-garde things for her, and she used them.
Q: Yeah.
A: It was a very good collaboration.
Q: What would say . . . . You knew Tom Fisher?
A: Of course, yes, very well.
Q: What kind of person was he?
A: Oh, he was a very interesting person. I think he was very New England.
Q: New England?
A: Yes. I think he was.
Q: In what way?
A: Combination of very strong and daring personality and some kind of stiffness.
Q: What, as a personality, what kinds of things did he like? I mean, how would you . . . .
A: He loved society. He was a very social person. I mean, he liked to go to parties and to dress for the evening and be charming with the ladies, and he was very . . . . And it was part of his personality to be like that.
Q: Would you say he was a snob?
A: Oh, no, not at all. He was taking life like a play, you see. He loved the social play, he liked the social . . . .
Q: What would you say was his relationship with Ruth in terms of helping her with her career?
A: It was only material. I mean, he tried to help her with all the material conditions.
Q: The business arrangements?
A: The business and mention things like that. Yes. But he didn't know anything about dance or art in general.
Q: Did he know that he didn't know anything?
A: Well, he was not pretentious at all. He was not interfering at all . . . .
Q: When you would be designing things at St. Tropez and you would be sketching and Tom would be there, would you ever show him the sketches?
A: Oh, of course, he saw them. Yes. But he didn't interfere. He never said, "I dislike that," or he said only when it looked too expensive to do or to build, that he could object to, because he had to be reasonable.
Q: Did you feel as though he was a person who had a great deal of respect for his wife's talents and abilities?
A: Certainly.
Q: So he wasn't merely indulging her.
A: Oh, no. It was more than that.
Q: It was a real respect.
A: Yes, oh yes.
Q: It strikes me that he knew a great deal more about Ruth's business than Ruth knew about his law business. He never discussed any of that.
A: Oh, no. It would have been boring for us.
Q: And you hate being bored?
A: Oh, well, if you could avoid it, it's better.
Q: Do you think you hate it more than most people?
A: I don't know. I don't know. I try not to . . . .
Q: Be bored?
A: Yes.
Q: I know that. What did you think, André, when you knew that Tom was ill, and you were very helpful to Ruth during that period. I mean, I know she came over to Europe and spent time with you.
A: Yes.
Q: And all of that, knowing then that it was just a matter of time until Tom was going to die.
A: No. I was never sure about that. I mean, she never told me anything until the last moment. She never told me anything about what was his kind of illness.
Q: What were your feelings and expectations about how Ruth would handle it once you knew that Tom was going to die?
A: There was a moment, but a very short moment, when she seemed completely lost. But it was very short; she recovered. We went together to St. Tropez, and it was very sad, of course, but it was very short. She is a strong lady, you know that.
Q: I do know that. What are the things that you like about her? Her strength?
A: Yes. I think I admire that a lot. I admire all those things that I have not, you see. It's natural.
Q: Oh, come on. She talks about you and said that you are a very, very strong person.
A: I don't feel like that at all. Myself, I don't know.
Q: Going back for a minute to finish covering some of the ballets that we haven't talked about. Alice in Wonderland.
A: Yes. It was a long, long story. It was the longest story in our collaboration because it began at the period just after Carmen. We began a very short version of Alice, only Alice in Wonderland and only the figures in the book without putting anything from outside, like now. And this first version was in Jacob's Pillow, when it was first done. The costumes, of course, were made in Paris. And another person who didn't like my work, was [Ted] Shawn, this man at Jacob's Pillow, Shawn. Ted Shawn.
Q: Ted Shawn, yes.
A: It was obvious he disliked the ballet completely: the spirit of it. It was the first time; it was very early. I don't remember the date, but it was '70 or '71.
Q: '70. If it was right after Carmen, it could have been in '70, '72, '73, you know.
A: Well, maybe more like '72 [sic].
Q: And then what happened?
A: Well, each time it had to be performed, we added things to it, and so finally the version in the Arie Crown Theatre in Chicago was in a two-act, full-evening version, and it contained a lot of things that had nothing to do really with the book.
Q: Right. But the Through the Looking Glass part . . .
A: Yes, [had] more fantasy . . .
Q: Right.
A: . . . and things, poetic things, added to the figure of Alice.
Q: That ballet strikes me . . . .
A: I don't think you ever saw it.
Q: On tape.
A: On tape. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
Q: It almost feels like Nutcracker, not that it looks like Nutcracker. But do you know what I mean? It's not . . . .
A: Oh, yes. I know exactly what you mean, and it is supposed to be . . . I think it should be something like Nutcracker. But in April, when children are free and can go to see some dance and some ballet. Ideally, it should have been that, but we were not persistent enough and couldn't find any help. And so it has never been established as a Nutcracker. But it could have been.
Q: An Easter . . . to make it an Easter . . . .
A: Yes. Easter, or, anyway, when children are free.
Q: What about something called Chain of Fools?
A: Oh, it's a very short thing.
Q: What was it?
A: Oh, it was very amusing. It's a figure we created in St. Tropez. It's a very loose, very vague story about a man who has brief encounters with three girls and finally he found this puppet, this . . . .
Q: Puppet?
A: Puppet. This girl, figure of a girl. And he prefers the figure of a girl to the real one. And all the girls have to leave, and he stays with his figure which becomes more and more
important and finally strangles him.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)