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Ruth Page Front Room No. 07 [March 27, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0562
Run Time
0h 19m 18s
Date Produced
March 27 1985
Q: I thought today, since you're all dressed up in this beautiful, elegant room, we would start off talking about something frivolous -- clothes. Let's talk about clothes.
A: I'll tell you, I like to go shopping twice a year. I don't like to shop. I get everything all at once. I never go any place but St. Laurent to the boutique, so it's fairly easy, and they never go out of style. That's the trouble with them. I like things that you throw away or give away, but you can't give away anything of St. Laurent. They're so simple, you see. I never wear anything else. Clothes don't bother me at all. I mean I don't think about them at all.
Q: You used to go shopping with Margot Fonteyn.
A: Oh, I got a letter from her yesterday, bless her. She's a lovely person. Did you ever know her?
Q: No, I never met her, but I know she's a good friend of yours.
A: She wants me to come to Panama to visit her. It's so strange to have her down in Panama there. She lives on a farm. She married this man. I remember she invited all her friends on the South coast of France to meet "the only man she ever loved," she said, and he was very attractive. And as soon as she married him, he was shot. It's terribly sad, but she stays with him all the time and takes him around with her. He can't talk. He can't eat. He has to have a man with him all the time. But she's very faithful and stays with him. I'd like to go down and see her, but it's so far away, Panama, you know. I've told you the story about Nureyev inviting her to come to Washington to see something he was doing, and she wired back that, she said, I'm sorry I just can't come, my favorite cow is sick. Margot with a cow!
Q: It's strange. Do you remember the first time you met her? It was in Italy, and you and
Tom . . . .
A: It was in Elba, the island of Elba. We were sitting in a swing. I remember very well this beautiful girl kept walking up and down in front of us and finally she came up and said, "You're Ruth Page, aren't you?" That's the way we met. I said, "Well, I guess I am," and we've been friends ever since. She's a wonderful person.
Q: You took a trip together -- sailing in the Greek Islands.
A: Yes, we went all over the Greek Islands together. Tom took just a funny old boat. I don't know, it was a terrible boat. We went all around the Greek Islands. We had a wonderful trip, though.
Q: It was you and Margot Fonteyn, Tom, Freddie Ashton . . . .
A: John Cranko [sic: Craxton]. We had a marvelous trip.
Q: It was not very lavish. Nothing was set up, right?
A: Oh, no. It was a very simple ship. It was nothing at all. It was just an old cargo ship, I guess. I don't know what it was. It's just something we found there, and they said that we could rent it. So we did.
Q: Then you had Greek names for each other, you and Margot Fonteyn.
A: I always called her "Marigoula" and she calls me "Ruthaki."
Q: You used to go shopping together in Paris.
A: That I don't remember.
Q: Well, according to the things I've read, there were times, one time, when you were just in the middle of having a terrible time choreographing something, and she came into town, and she was there to do a little shopping, and the two of you just took off. She likes clothes very much.
A: Yes, she does. She wears wonderful clothes. She really pays attention to what she wears, and she always looks marvelous. Of course, she's a beautiful girl and she had a beautiful figure, and everything looks nice on her. And so it doesn't matter much what she wears, but she's very fussy about what she wears. She's just the opposite from me.
Q: You wrote that at the time you met her, Margot was the best ballerina in the world.
A: She was, I think, yes. She was a perfectionist. Everything she did was perfect. And then she thought her career was over, I think . . . thought she was getting too old to dance, when Nureyev came along. And he was such a big smash hit, and so he sort of brought her back into prominence again. And they were wonderful together. I think they were marvelous together.
Q: I've seen them. They were wonderful together.
A: It was a wonderful partnership. He was very intelligent. I think he was a great artist, too.
Q: Nureyev.
A: Yes.
Q: You said, once before, that you thought it was time for him to stop dancing.
A: Yes, it was, but he went on anyway and did all right. He started doing modern dance. He was too old to do ballet dancing, but he switched around a bit, and so he kept on quite a long while. I don't know how old he was when he stopped [sic]. The time to stop is supposed to be 40. But a lot of people go on to 50. Pavlova went on 'til she was 52, I believe. I don't know how long Margot danced. I said, "When are you ever going stop, Margot?" And she said, "Well, I'll stop when nobody wants to see me anymore." So, of course, she went on for much too long.
Q: Now, in your own case, you danced into your fifties.
A: Yes. I went on too long, I'm sure.
Q: Why do you say that, Ruth?
A: Well, because fifty's too old to dance.
Q: You were a sensation in Frankie and Johnny when you were 50.
A: Was I that old then? Well, maybe. I don't know. That was a part that was sort of different.
Q: It depends [on] the kind of dancing that you're doing.
A: Yes. I never did much straight classical dancing. I never did Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty or any of those big classical ballets. I wasn't interested in them at all -- dancing, I mean. I liked to look at them when somebody else did them. Even then, I didn't like to look at them very much.
Q: There was a time when you stepped into a performance of one of your ballets when the ballerina got sick at the very last moment . . .
A: What ballet was that?
Q: I will now tell you. Ahhh . . . it was . . . .
A: Maybe Frankie?
Q: No, it wasn't Frankie. It was another one, and it was an especially difficult one that was having a terrible time getting started. Was it part of Billy Sunday? Now I've asked the question, and I don't remember. And apparently, you danced it wonderfully because the reviews were terrific, but you were reluctant to do it because you felt it was too late for you to be still dancing. I think you were well into your fifties at the time.
A: Well, that is too late.
Q: You just stepped in, and it was somewhere abroad.
A: Paris?
Q: I think so.
A: It was either then Billy Sunday or Frankie. Those were the two ballets we did there.
Q: Yes. I think it was Billy Sunday.
A: We did another ballet in Paris [which] I did called Revenge.
Q: I wanted to ask about that today.
A: I think it's the best ballet I ever did. It had a great success in Paris, but I don't know why I never did it after.
Q: In 1951.
A: Yes. I don't remember why I never did it after that, but I never did after Paris [sic]. I thought I better leave well enough alone. It went so well there. We did it every night with the [Ballet des] Champs-Elysées. It was funny it was called Revenge, because I had had that difficulty with Frankie and Johnny and Billy Sunday the year before, and I come back and do a ballet called Revenge! I was just an accident, purely an accident. I think it was an awfully good ballet. Clavé designed it. Antoni Clavé.
Q: And his sets and costumes were quite something.
A: They were marvelous. They were wonderful. I always say that the success of the ballet was due to Clavé, not me.
Q: You found him and brought him along. Do you remember your first meeting with Clavé?
A: No.
Q: It was in Paris, and you went to lunch.
A: Oh, yes. It was with his old mother, wasn't it? Yes. She was extraordinary. She came out of Spain. She was very old, and I had never seen anybody anything like her. She was fascinating. Yes, I remember that very well now.
Q: And she was a painter? She had had a stroke, I believe, and was painting with her left hand.
A: Yes. I had forgotten all about her.
Q: And you hit it off right away, you and Clavé.
A: Oh, yes. We worked well together. I loved working with him.
Q: The ballet was a huge success and it was not one of those that seems to have had a lot of difficulty in your giving birth to it. Unlike Billy Sunday, which just seemed to take forever and drag on and there were all sorts of problems with it. Trovatore seems to have come together fairly easily.
A: Well, the music is wonderful, and the story is wonderful, and it has a marvelous part, the part of Azucena. That's probably where I stepped in and did it for her, maybe. Sonia Arova did the part and she was terrific in it. The pas de deux she does with her son, with Manrico, was awfully interesting, and the gypsy scene -- I like that scene very much. I think Alicia Markova did the Leonora. Yes, it was well cast. It was sort of foolproof, I think. The parts are so wonderful.
Q: And Isaac Van Grove, he arranged the orchestrations.
A: He arranged it. I worked with him a lot -- all by correspondence. We were never together. He knew my work very well, and I knew how clever he was at arranging. He knew opera very well. He'd been in opera all his life. He knew all the stories and the music, and he knew how to shorten them and put them together for a ballet. That's what he did for me.
Q: Compared to some of your other working relationships, it seems Isaac van Grove had a sense of what you needed in order for a ballet to work, by contrast to the work you did with Remi Gassmann.
A: Yes, he was a very good musician, but he wasn't good for me at all. I couldn't work with him. I didn't like what he did for me at all.
Q: And he took so long. He composed music for Billy Sunday and it dragged on for years.
A: Yes, and I still didn't like it! And then at the end, I had somebody else redo the whole thing.
Q: Finally, yes.
     Revenge was a great success . . . you brought a program to Paris. You were the first American ballet company really to appear in Paris since the War.
A: I don't remember that. I know we went, but I didn't know we were the first one.
Q: And with you, you brought José Limon.
A: He was a wonderful artist. We did his ballet The Moor's Pavane [and La Malinche].
Q: Why did you decide to bring him along with you?
A: First of all, because he was very handsome, and I knew he'd be good in my ballets. And I liked his ballet. There were only four people in it, and it was a very good ballet, and I thought it would be good to have somebody besides me. That's why I brought him.
Q: You were aware of what had happened the year before when the Paris Opera Ballet had come to New York. Do you remember what kind of reception they had?
A: I don't think they were very successful, somehow. I don't remember what they did or anything, to tell the truth.
     Now, it's a marvelous company. I watched some of their classes, and they have some great dancers. They've got about 90, and they were all the same. They're all beautiful, and they all have technique. They've got everything, but they don't seem to do very much. I don't know.
Q: I think even then you wrote some things that you were not impressed, in 1949 when they came to New York. But apparently there was a political demonstration, and at their opening performance, they were booed, because the head of the ballet was once rumored to have been a collaborator with the Nazis.
A: Maybe that was Serge Lifar. I don't know whether he was or not. I don't know at all. He was very attractive and he was a good dancer. I remember there was some difficulty, but what it was, I don't really know.
Q: They were booed opening night, and then the New York dance community, some of the dancers, had a picket line, a nightly picket, outside the theatre in New York where the Paris Opera Ballet was performing.
A: Sounds interesting! Anyone who could get a picket line, it must be a very interesting situation.
Q: I think the picket line was what caused the problem for you the next year when you went to Paris, because the Parisian ballet community was just waiting to get back at the Americans . . .
A: Yes, that's right. Maybe that was true.
Q: . . . and so opening night . . . .
A: We were hissed. I loved it!
Q: You loved it? Why?
A: Oh, if you're just sort of a mediocre success or a mediocre failure, it's kind of dull. But if people hiss you and boo you, then you know you're something interesting at any rate!
Q: In fact, the Paris Opera Ballet had bought 250 seats in the balcony of the Champs-Elysées Theatre, which was where you were performing, for opening night, and they were there to retaliate, and they hissed and booed away. At the end of every ballet, of every dance, they would begin to hiss and boo before the audience could even begin.
A: Well, I think that's fascinating! I'd forgotten about that.
Q: But then the reviews that came out later for both Frankie and Johnny and Billy Sunday which you performed there . . . , it really was a triumph.
A: Well, who came to our rescue there was Larionov and Gontcharova. They were two very well-known artists and sort of critics of the dance, and they came out 100% for us. That helped us a very great deal. They'd never seen anything like a real realistic ballet like Frankie and Johnny, one that was down-to-earth and showed everyday life. They had mostly seen classical ballets. So this was a kind of shock for them. I can understand that.
Q: It was a shock, and for the very proper French, the content of that particular ballet was a shock for some of them.
A: Yes. I think so.
Q: They objected to the prostitute.
A: They objected to the theme. There were a couple of lesbians in it. There had been something closed just before we got there [sic] because it was about lesbians, and there were two lesbians in my Frankie and Johnny. You can hardly notice them. They're two girls who come in sort of dancing together. Well, they're only on for a couple of minutes. But they objected to the lesbians. Well, that's sort of silly, but anyway, that's the way it was.
Q: It was silly.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)