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Ardis Krainik No. 04 [April 22, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0605
Run Time
0h 18m 51s
Date Produced
April 22 1987
Q: Can you recall, do you remember the very first time you met Ruth Page?
A: I first met Ruth Page in 1954. She came into the Lyric Opera offices, where I was working as a clerk, and she was the most glamorous, artistic personality I had ever met. As a matter of fact, she was probably the first glamorous, artistic personality I had ever met! I found her such a gamine-type, scintillating and charming. It didn't matter that any of us in the office were lowly clerk-types, she loved all of us and was nice to all of us in a way that warms your heart. To me, Ruth is one of the really great people of this world, not just for her artistic abilities, but for her humanness. her sympathy to her -- to everybody.
Q: It's true. She treats everybody the same. It is[n't] as though she treats your secretary very much differently than she treats one of her dancers.
A: And her love for her dancers is always terrific. Whenever there are parties, you know, sometimes you invite the stars and you don't invite the little people. Ruth invited everybody to her parties. She invited the stars and the other people, they were all exactly the same. She loved them all and they all loved her. It was a remarkable thing to witness and to observe, and that's what I liked about her.
Q: A lot of Ruth's career was tied up in choreographing ballet sequences for the opera. I don't think that people exactly understand that there's ballet in opera. Can you in a nutshell explain what the demands, or what ballet in opera is?
A: Ballet in opera has a very interesting history. Grand opera, really grand opera, must have ballet in it, there must be a ballet sequence. And at the Opera in Paris, there was never an opera that didn't have a ballet, and if the composer hadn't written one, he was asked to write one so that the ballet could perform. That's just sort of an aside. In our present day, things have changed, and some of the music in opera that's written for ballet isn't performed by ballet anymore, it's performed by the chorus or something else. The styles have changed. But there are some wonderful pieces that are written in operas just for the ballet to dance. They're not long sequences, some are very short sequences, but every opera company has to have a ballet company attached to it to do the ballet sequences in the operas.
Q: And the choreographer of opera ballet has different kinds of demands than for ballet.
A: Well, Ruth Page was for us both a choreographer and the ballet mistress. So she did the design of the choreography; she did the steps; she was the stage director, so to speak, but in ballet it's called a choreographer. She made up the plays that the ballet was to follow. In addition to that, as the ballet mistress for Lyric Opera of Chicago, she procured the ballet and put it together as a company and engaged the ballets dancers. And I worked with Ruth all those years as the person [who] was, so to speak, her right arm in engaging these dancers for the corps de ballet and the soloists and the stars.
Q: Now, choreographing for opera is different than just going and making up a ballet for something else. What kind of elements would you say impinge on a choreographer who has to choreograph a ballet that has to fit into an opera?
A: Well, I don't think it has to be different for opera than it has to be for anything else. The music is the motivating factor and the costuming is a motivating factor. This year, for example, when we did Giaconda, there was some discussion about doing Giaconda in the manner in which it was done in San Francisco, which was not a classical ballet. But we decided here in Chicago that we wanted to do a classical ballet, and so there are many artistic decisions that are made that influences how the choreographer puts together the piece.
     When we did Paradise Lost, we didn't have the music, and it was choreographed without music for four minutes, and the composer finally wrote two minutes of music, and there were two minutes which were filled with a certain kind of sound, which was interesting, and then a minute of silence as well. So things happen in an artistic world in a very different way. The piece itself, the music of the piece itself, is what dictates what the choreography should be. Now every choreographer has a different idea. He or she hears the music and thinks of what kind of steps, what sort of dance would be best for that and then puts it into practice. I don't know any better way of saying (A) what a choreographer is, or (B) how he or she works in opera.
Q: Can you remember any specific anecdotes about Ruth working on an opera, working with you, because you were, of course, involved or some unusual, surprising or funny things that
A: Well, whenever anyone asks me about an opera anecdote, things flee out of my mind, and I can only remember things I don't dare tell anybody. But I remember the auditions that we held year after year, and Ruth's demand for beautiful people -- after all, you want to have beautiful dancers -- her demand for beautiful legs and beautiful feet and ankles. I can't think about any anecdotes about Ruth that were particularly funny, off hand. If I think of one as we're talking, I'll tell you.
Q: Okay. Do you remember when Rudolph Nureyev came to dance?
A: One of the most important things that Ruth Page did for dance in America, certainly for opera dance in America, was to persuade Rudolph Nureyev to dance with Lyric Opera of Chicago. He made his American debut after he defected from Russia -- it was in 1963 [sic] -- in Brooklyn, with Ruth. It was Ruth who arranged all of this. Rudy was one of her favorite
people and still is, of course, to this day. And he loves her. I saw him in Paris not so long ago, and he asked how Ruth was. That was the first thing he asked me. Soon after the Brooklyn engagement, he came to dance Prince Igor with Sonia Arova, and it was Ruth who brought him here, and he made a sensation in Prince Igor, because those are the very famous "Polovtsian Dances," everyone has heard those, and he just went around the stage in a fashion heretofore unseen in America. And he danced -- I wish I knew the names of the steps -- but his leaps were poetry in motion. It was the sensation of the 1963 season. It was one of Ruth's great triumphs.
Q: I have always wondered, when you come to the ballet segment of an opera, is there ever a problem between the choreographer and the director of the ballet, with the choreographer saying, "I want more room. You've got to move the chorus back." Does that ever happen, or does the choreography have to fit in the space that's allotted and that's it?
A: The choreographer and the director are very often at odds. But the director is the boss in this case. It depends on how much clout the choreographer has, I suppose, and some choreographers have decided they wanted to be stage directors of the opera so that they didn't have this problem. There are other problems with the space in an opera house, and that is that the chorus can never see the conductor when the ballet is dancing in front of them. That's one of the big problems that we hear more about. But the choreographer must, of course, look out for his or her chickens to see that they have enough room to dance, and when the dance is going on, they are primary, so everybody moves back and gives them the space that they need. And usually the choreographer and the stage director of an opera get together early on to talk about the production, the demands of the production, and how the stage director conceives of it; I mean, whether it's going to be done twentieth century style. If it's going to be done eighteenth century style, then the choreography has to fit the stage director's conception of the opera. And usually choreographers are very, very pliable, very cooperative and very inventive and ingenious. And indeed Ruth was always one of those.
Q: What about working with the conductor? An opera conductor interprets the music and works, of course, with the singers. Now you are familiar, of course, with the fact that dancers expect to be adjusted to them, and ballet conductors are used to this kind of thing. What about opera conductors?
A: Opera conductors are inclined, if I may say this, to be a little "rigid" about their ballet tempi. They think the tempo should be "so-and-so," many of them, and the ballet mistress or the ballet choreographer is constantly begging the conductor to go a little faster here or a little faster there. Some conductors are very thoughtful of the ballet, and some conductors are not. They seem not to understand that the ballet has to dance to the music. I've always felt that was a little short-sighted. I could never understand a conductor who didn't have the real sense of what the ballet was doing, and that he should go along with them and accompany them, as indeed he does with many of the singers. But I will not name any names as to who does what.
     But there are two sides to it and, of course, the choreographer . . . I've heard Ruth say many times, "Well, maestro, couldn't we have it a little faster here?" She was a great diplomat. She usually got her way. But not always without a struggle. But I never heard her have any fights with anybody, and everybody loved her so much. She always called people "Darling!" And it was wonderful. And she was always talking about "Stars!" And I think that people loved her so much that they always tried to accommodate what she wanted because she asked about it so nicely.
Q: There was a lot of struggle that she was going through in terms of, she did the opera during the season and then she had her company that toured during the rest of the year and trying to get a company started. Do you remember any of the struggles? Did she ever talk about those with you what she was going through?
A: Ruth's major struggles when she was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago were finding boys to dance. The ballet boy, the good ballet boy, was hard to find, and she took many trips to New York to bring them back. I don't think of Ruth as struggling. She never talked about struggling. And if she did, she didn't let on that she was having any kind of a struggle. She had this wonderful sort of a positive feeling about things. It wasn't a positive this way, it was a positive this way -- it was always smiling, always airy. Everything was always wonderful, and so things turned out for her, I think, because of the wonderful attitude she had about it. And I knew, of course, about any kinds of struggles she was having, but not because she talked to me about them, because I knew. I always figured that Ruth had everything in hand and would always end in a wonderful position, because she never took "no" for an answer. She always moved ahead. She formed her own company. She did a great deal of touring. She bought the Moose lodge for her company and has been a real fixture in Chicago, a beloved fixture, for many, many years.
Q: So you never saw her depressed, exasperated, angry, unhappy?
A: No, I didn't. Of course, you know I wasn't the General Manager then. It was Carol Fox. I don't think that Ruth ever let on when she was depressed or unhappy. I never saw her that way. Maybe Carol did, but I never did. And, of course, Ruth was the choreographer of Lyric Opera from 1954 through 1968. I didn't become General Manager until 1981. So that was quite a few years after Ruth left as a regular member of the company.
Q: As I'm sure you know, opera had an enormous influence on the ballets that Ruth ultimately created. She created a number of what is called -- this will horrify you -- in dance books, her opera-into-ballet ballets. She did Carmen and The Merry Widow and Fledermaus. and something called Revenge which is Trovatore . . .
A: Revanche . . . .
Q: . . . Revanche. Oh, you know . . . The Barber of Seville. A number of them. Those kind of happened simultaneously with her work at the Lyric, although she began when they were doing operas at Ravinia. She'd been choreographing for opera since 1926. Were you aware of how her work with the opera influenced those, at all?
A: I think that Ruth Page's interest in opera began long before Lyric Opera, and I think that Lyric Opera didn't necessarily influence what Ruth did, because she came to Lyric Opera always with a very important sense of the operas. As a matter of fact, some of the first things that she did here were her Merry Widow ballet, which was opera ballet, an opera made into ballet, and the Revanche, which she did here in 1955, which was the Trovatore made into a ballet. So all of Ruth's opera-ballets sort of went hand-in-hand with Lyric Opera. It all was at the same time, and it seemed perfectly natural, because Ruth always had a wonderful handle on what opera was all about, and she translated it into the ballet idiom, I think, very successfully.
Q: Really? So that when you watch one of Ruth's opera-into-ballets you don't say, "This is a travesty. This is wrong.".
A: No. I can make that translation immediately from the opera into ballet, and ballet back again. I think we have the right, all of us creative artists, to do what we want with the pieces. No one said that you couldn't do a ballet from an opera, and I feel that's a very creative kind of impulse, and we should be permitted that. How is our art form going to grow unless we take different paths and avenues? And this was Ruth's path and avenue, and it was very successful. It was very successful with the public. You know, Verdi always said, "Keep your eye on the box office because it tells you how good you are. It tells you whether you're going over." And if we don't have a public for what we do, what good is our art form if nobody comes to see it? So I'm all for creativity. I'm all for taking chances and trying to do things in a different way, especially if you have a good idea that's going to be a box office hit. That I think is important. Sometimes you don't know. Sometimes you just have to take the chance, and that we have to do in any art form -- ballet, opera, symphony, painting, anything -- everything has to burst its own bounds, peck it's way out of its shell, and let fancy fly.
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Chicago (production location of)