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Marjorie Tallchief No. 03 [April 28, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0603
Run Time
0h 19m 17s
Date Produced
April 28 1987
Q: Tell me about the first time you met Ruth Page.
A: It seems to me as though the first time I met Ruth Page was in Paris. She came over there and she had a house on the Left Bank. We went over and talked to her. She then invited my late husband and myself to join her for an American tour.
Q: And you danced with her company as the principal guest artists?
A: Yes.
Q: I have here a list of some of the ballets that you danced in. I know that you created the roles of Camille and Armand in Ruth's Camille.
A: That's right.
Q: Can you tell me about that?
A: Well, actually, if I remember right, we went down to St. Tropez. She had a house down there, and we rehearsed there. It was marvelous because we rehearsed in the morning and could go swimming in the afternoon and then rehearse in the evening. It was a good ballet for me. I really enjoyed working with Ruth in that.
Q: Your sister tells the story about how much Ruth loved to dance. She said that she always loved to dance. So, there was poor Marjorie, and she didn't get a chance to rehearse. Can you tell us that story?
A: Well, she did, because my husband was a very good partner. She would be choreographing, and I'd start thinking that I was going to go up, and suddenly Ruth jumped up and she'd be flinging around and was just so happy. She was in seventh heaven. She just loved it.
Q: How was the working relationship working with her. Of course, your husband was, of course, a choreographer as well, and obviously working with that, but you worked with a number of different choreographers. How would you describe Ruth's choreographic technique?
A: Ruth, as you know, was a charming person. She's a lot of fun. We had great fun and she worked fast. On Camille, I think she really tried to do what was good for me, and I really think she succeeded.
Q: Was she very demanding, or did you feel as though it was a process in which you were working with her?
A: Both. She knew what she wanted, definitely. If Ruth wanted a step, you had to do that step, that was it. That was her step, and she wanted it. At the same time, expression-wise, she let you be yourself.
Q: I also know you danced in the Merry Widow, and in Revenge.
A: Yes, I did. That's right.
Q: And possibly some others?
A: I don't believe so. I think those were it. One tour we did Camille. I believe, and my husband's ballet Idylle. I danced in both of those.
Q: What was it like dancing Merry Widow and Revenge on the road and on tour?
A: Very tiring. Exhausting because we went by bus. It was on the bus in the morning and then get off, do your class, and get on stage. It was tiring. It was a hard tour.
Q: And you did that for a couple of years?
A: I did one year with Merry Widow, and the next year we did Camille.
Q: You were then involved . . . living with people in the company every day, with Ruth every day.
A: Ruth sometimes came on tour. Not always. There was one ballet that she spoke at the beginning, but I'm not sure which one it was.
Q: Susanna and the Barber.
A: Then she came on tour and did that. She wasn't always on tour. She was lucky.
Q: Your husband George Skibine was, I guess you could say, the first guest choreographer of Ruth's company. There was the first ballet you mentioned, Idylle, and then Annabel Lee pas de deux that he also did.
A: Yes, that's right.
Q: Why do you think she chose George as a person . . . I mean there are obviously lots of people she could have said, "Why don't you do something for my company?"
A: My husband and she were very great friends. Ruth was a lot of fun, and she liked him and he liked her. So, I think she asked him if he would like to do . . . . He had already done the ballets before, so it was just doing them with her company on tour.
Q: How is it when you are a principal guest artist and you're in with the company and you are the stars that have been brought in? What is the relationship like? Is ballet sort of a democracy? Are you friends?
A: Well, it's never easy at the beginning, but I think that when they realize that you're on the bus every day and are working as hard, not much harder than they are, then you become friends. I think all dancers relate to other people's work. They know how hard it is, so they can relate to somebody else's.
Q: Now, I've often said that I think that dancers work the hardest of all the arts. The hardest thing is to be a dancer. Harder than to be an opera singer, more than just sheer hard work.
A: I presume it would be. I'd love to be able to sing, but can't. Dancing is very hard, and it's very rewarding. If you don't love it, then just forget about it.
Q: I know that George and you were guests of Ruth and Tom's at St. Tropez. Can you describe what life was like there and what it was like to be with Ruth and Tom?
A: It was great! Like I say, we worked very hard but then also had our moments of leisure, and we used to go out at night. Ruth would go have her coffee and ice cream at four o'clock. It was a pleasant time; it was fun. Tom used to read to Ruth at night.
Q: Read to Ruth at night? What kinds of things did he read?
A: I'm not sure. We never stayed, but I know he did read to her.
Q: What kind of man was Tom Fisher? I've never met him.
A: I did not know him as well as I knew Ruth. The only time we met him was in St. Tropez. In Paris, actually.
Q: You were talking about Tom Fisher.
A: I was saying that I did not know Tom as well as I knew Ruth, obviously. I can say that Tom really loved Ruth.
Q: Why do you say that?
A: Well, he just did. He loved her very much. I mean it was real love. He was fascinated by her because she was an amusing person.
Q: A lot is sort of made about Ruth's personal style and personal flair. Can you give us a picture of sort of the personality and charm of Ruth as you remember her in the days when you were working so closely together?
A: She was very vibrant. She was very exciting -- "gamine," as you would call the haircut. She was always alive. Ruth was always on. She was never dull. I think this is what Tom probably loved about her, was the excitement of being around Ruth. You never knew what she was going to do or say. So, it was always something unexpected.
Q: And her attributes about dance, her approach to her work. Very committed?
A: I think so. Obviously, she had done this all of her life. She built a school, she has this theater. Ruth loved dancing.
Q: Did you ever give any thought to where this drive to just stay at it and just do it and do it and do it comes from?
A: It's just there. If you love dancing, it's there. You have to do it in a way. There's nothing else you can do.
Q: Did you ever see Ruth perform?
A: I don't believe so. No, I don't think so.
Q: So you don't remember what she was like as a dancer?
A: She might have. I'm not sure about this, she might have danced in one of the ballets, but I was not in it.
Q: By that time she was sixty years old and so it wouldn't have been.
A: No, it was not.
Q: I know that a number of people in the company, Larry Long and Dolores Lipinski, have wonderful memories of working with you and George and say that you had a great deal of fun and that there was a real warmth that developed over the years. Now, did you work after those two or three years when you were principal guest artists with the company?
A: No. The only time that we worked again is that my husband invited Ruth down to Dallas to do Merry Widow. Kenneth Johnson came first, and then Ruth came down for the final rehearsals and performance.
Q: What is it, you think, about Merry Widow that's made it so successful as a ballet? It's one of Ruth's most successful works, certainly.
A: The costumes are beautiful, first. The music is great, and it's a fun ballet. Everybody can relate to it. It's not too intellectual; The Merry Widow can't be. It's really a fun ballet, and the audience loves it. You have waltzes, cancans, and there's a story. The costumes and scenery are beautiful.
Q: It was fun for you to do because of the sort of lavishness of it.
A: I wouldn't say that was one of my best roles, Merry Widow, but I think I was better in Camille. It's fun to do, but like any artist, some things are better for you and some are not, that's all.
Q: What was there about Camille that you said seemed especially better for you?
A: I liked the drama of it.
Q: There's a story -- I think it's in Camille -- that Ken Johnson tells about Ruth. I guess it's in Camille, where Camille doesn't die in her lover's arms. She sort of comes back to life and dances around. Have I got that straight? I think so.
A: No, that's not. I died anyway. I was definitely dead.
Q: Knowing what you do know, when you met Ruth, had you heard anything about her work? Had you heard anything about her early work?
A: No. I knew that she had done . . . what ballet did she do for Ballet Russe?
Q: Frankie and Johnny.
A: Frankie and Johnny. I knew she had done that.
Q: And Billy Sunday.
A: Billy Sunday I never saw, but Frankie and Johnny I did see. That's the only thing I knew about her at that time.
Q: When you saw Frankie and Johnny, which must have been sometime in the '50s or the late '40s, were you shocked by it at the time?
A: No.
Q: It created a real scandal in Paris after World War II, but I think it was more because the Parisians wanted to make a fuss in retaliation for something that had happened in New York than they thought the ballet was especially shocking, although it was nearly banned in Boston.
A: That's strange. Oh, really? Very few things can shock a Parisian audience.
Q: I know, but there you have it. Ruth, herself, is especially proud of the fact: to shock Paris.
A: It's hard.
Q: When you think in terms of Ruth's contributions, of the things that Ruth has done in terms of adding things to dance in America, how would you describe those contributions? What do you think that she has done?
A: I lived so many years in Europe that I'm not that up on what she did in America. I know more of what she did in Europe and the few tours that I was with her in America, but we were always on tour. I never was around her in Chicago or New York, so I really couldn't tell you this, what contributions were there.
Q: One of the things that they talk about, when you say on tour, about being a contribution of Ruth's is -- and Anna Kisselgoff talks about how Ruth really . . . her company toured second longest to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo -- it was the only company that had a longer length of tour, and you know how long those tours were. You even survived a couple of them, and you just went everywhere. You brought dance to Leadville, Colorado, and Beeville, Texas, and places where people had never seen dance before, except for you the year before. Did you feel as you were doing that as though you were some sort of dance pioneer, bringing dance to a new audience? What was that like?
A: No, I didn't think of it as that. I just thought that the audience enjoyed it. I never really realized that maybe they had never seen dance before. I just assumed they had.
Q: And it was no different for you from dancing before an audience in New York, Europe, or someplace else?
A: No, an audience is always the same. Some see more ballets, but an audience, for an artist, is an audience.
Q: That's interesting. So you really don't do anything different or feel different?
A: I hope not. One maybe does, but I don't think one should.
Q: Larry Long says about Ruth that she always approached her work as though she was choreographing for Paris or New York, and she thought that would play just fine in Leadville, Colorado, that Leadville deserved her best. And I guess you're saying the same thing.
A: Yes, obviously.
Q: When you were in Chicago, I get unsure of the years here, you then went to Dallas right shortly after you had been . . . .
A: No, I stayed in Paris quite a few more years, and I joined Harkness for a few years, and then I went to Dallas.
Q: So you would see Ruth and Tom possibly . . . after you'd stop and seen them?
A: Yes, we'd see them in Paris or we'd see them in St. Tropez. We always saw them someplace.
Q: Socially, they were nice to be with?
A: Oh, yes. They were a lot of fun.
Q: Much is made out of the fact that Tom was really such a supporter of Ruth's work -- so supportive and helpful and devoted to her in terms of all of the . . . just the organization of her company, not the choreography.
A: This I don't know.
Q: You don't know anything about that?
A: No. I just know that he enjoyed being around artists. Tom, for him, it was amusing. He enjoyed that part of Ruth's life, the whole atmosphere.
Q: People talk about the clothes she has always worn and that sort of style and flair. Can you talk about that?
A: Ruth liked to shock people. I remember that supposedly she came to Dallas in pantaloons and gave a speech, and the women of Dallas always remember her because she had those marvelous pantaloons on.
Q: It is outrageous. We have a picture of it. So, she came to Dallas and the ladies still talked about it.
A: Yes, at the women's meeting. She gave a speech, and they still talk about that, "Oh, we remember Ruth very well."
Q: Do you ever remember seeing Ruth in a down mood or ever going through struggle or anything. Any reflective time or memories of Ruth like that?
A: The only time that I've seen Ruth a little down is when we were on tour in the bus, and it can get depressing. It can get a little bit tiring. Even at her age, she still tried to be up, but it's very difficult. She could become a little tired.
Q: Tell me what the grind is like? You get up in the morning and then what?
A: You have breakfast and then get on the bus and go to another town, and then you unpack, do your performance, and then go to bed. The next morning the same thing. It can be very routine, but you still have your performances.
Q: I was just thinking that's got to be the whole reason for doing it, because everything else around it seemed as though it would be awfully . . . .
A: Yes, it can be dreary.
Q: It must have been nice for you to at least be touring with George. Did you always do that?
A: Yes, except when he hurt himself, and then I toured by myself.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)