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Nicolas Petrov No.01 [April 3, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0607
Run Time
0h 19m 27s
Date Produced
April 3 1987
Q: Tell me about the first time you met Ruth Page.
A: The first time I met Ruth Page was somewhere in the 1960s. She was in Italy where I was performing with the Massine Ballet, the Ballet of Nervi. She and Ann Barzel came to see the performance. Actually, I only shook hands and knew her very little then. Really, I re-met her or got friendly with her in 1969. I read an announcement in Dance Magazine that she was selling costumes. As I just founded the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, I was looking to get costumes and thought that it would be good to invite her to make a choreography. So I called her up, and in a very pleasant voice, she said to come over and see. "I will show you ballets and costumes and pictures," and all this.
     So I talked to Mrs. Falk, who was then the president of the board, and said that I would like to go to Chicago and visit Miss Page, see what she has to sell and what could be bought. I flew in on a snowy, cold day. The lake was frozen, and she had her apartment looking on the lake. Actually, I arrived and she greeted me like she knew me forever. I planned to stay there for an evening or maybe the next day. Finally, I stayed there three days. I came in and we talked. We spoke about common acquaintances and all that. Finally, she said, "Do you want to see the ballets and what I could offer you and the costumes," and all that. I said sure, that I was interested, and all that. And she started to show the ballets -- probably for an uninterrupted time, just so much to change the reels on the film and all that. We were watching for at least three hours. This was the first acquaintance. We saw Die Fledermaus, Carmen, Merry Widow, I don't remember in what order it was, but many, many films, one after the other. Finally she asked which one I liked.
     Well, I liked lots of them, but I guess my first impression, the one I was most impressed with was Carmen, probably because I knew the subject and all that. This would be the perfect ballet for us; it's a new company with young dancers, but I didn't have a good soloist. So Ruth said, "I have my soloists who are working with me, but they're all over. Possibly I could get them." Patty Klekovic . . . I didn't know her name at the time, but I said, "This girl with the high extension, I like her. Do you think we could have her?" "No problem. We'll call her up. She's in town." Something like that. "I will call her immediately."
     Basically, we looked at many, many films, but the first choice stayed as my choice. I took a copy of the film, as well as three or four other films with me to Pittsburgh to Mrs. Falk and to the board, and said that those were the ballets that I would like to produce here in Pittsburgh. At the time, it was in this office. This was the first Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre office. Basically, I came back and proposed the ballet. It was fantastic that Ruth's approach was very friendly, "Darling this, and darling that." I was really feeling at home. I slept one or two nights in her guest room. She had a Spanish cook or maid who served a sort of candlelight dinner and breakfast, and I was really impressed. Besides all of the ballet talk, we talked about designers and paintings of lots of dance designers. All that made a fantastic feeling of a nest of dance, which I naturally didn't have here in Pittsburgh yet. I just arrived and was looking hard to create some condition of professional dance. I was just brought here to head the Playhouse School, which actually closed very soon after that, and I was almost out the door. It was somehow arranged that [sound garbled] who brought me in, got in touch with Point Park College, who was in the Playhouse, and proposed a program to move to the college to exist in the drama department in cooperation with the Playhouse.
     I naturally said, "Well, why not the dance? There's a lot of following." So, we brought it here. At that time, the president Arthur Blum, who actually was very interested in dance -- I only later got to know that -- he said, "Yes." This brought us to the theater/dance department. And after the dance department, I was involved with the Pittsburgh Opera, which was my first professional work here in Pittsburgh. Arthur Blum said, "How about if you do a ballet company?" I said, "That's my idea." He directed me to the American Symphony, which was directed by Robert Boudreau. As he had problems in raising money and all that, he said, "Well, you create your board. When you have your board, it will be easier and more widespread for the ballet." I went out to look for board members, and Lotti Falk was the person who I knew from the Playhouse board. I invited her, and after investigating the proposal, she decided to accept and come on the board.
Q: What made you decide to go to Ruth Page to be a choreographer? It was really your first season, right?
A: Yes, that was my first season. Actually, that wasn't our first season, it was our first "entry." What I did to raise money in Pittsburgh, certainly with the school or with a non-professional approach, would be no different than what was done before. I said that I had to do something different, even if it is only an example for one performance. That one performance, or series of performances, will be the example or the way to say, "This is what we could do, and we could [be] better with your help."
Q: You presented Carmen for the first appearance of the Pittsburgh Ballet?
A: Yes, Carmen was the first ballet which we presented. Actually, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre was in the process of forming. It was in the process of trying to impress certain people who really would never come to dance, but through the help of Mrs. Falk and her fans, we really filled up the Playhouse audience, which was our first home. I also brought in lots of dancers, actually to present the leading dancers, Patricia Klekovic and Kenny Johnson. I also brought on in the same performance Edward Villella and Violette Verdy. There was Joyce Cuoco, who was presented like a "wunderkind," with Bill Martin-Viscount, Stephen Grable with Melanie Grable, who was invited. I think there were like six or seven couples.
Q: What did the critics say about Carmen?
A: They liked it -- everything, because it was surprising for Pittsburgh that we could produce something like that. For the first time we had a gathered orchestra, ten or fifteen musicians, we had with Michael Siminsky who conducted the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony. He was invited to conduct the symphony. It was strange for the Playhouse, which is really a drama theater and doesn't have a very big pit, mainly for doing comedy musicals, maybe six musicians or eight at maximum. We had fifteen to sixteen musicians. It was almost a large chamber orchestra. That was also something new and different.
Q: After that, you did other ballets of Ruth Page's?
A: Yes, that was the first. Then we really started. We opened the first season which was 1969-1970, I think. Carmen was on the first season. After this first season, we created a budget which was something we needed to create to engage somebody. I proposed to Kenneth Johnson and Patty Klekovic and, I think, Orrin Kayan . . . . Yes, Orrin was with us for the first performance. I proposed that they join the company. I said, "You will dance, and some will teach in the schools." They were really guest teachers and guest dancers. From there, we were planning what to do next. I'm not sure what year it was we did Ruth's Romeo and Juliet of Tchaikovsky's music and Bolero.
Q: What I need you to do is go through the list of Page ballets that you did.
A: We did Concertino [pour Trois], Catulli Carmina, Alice in Wonderland, which was meant for Joyce Cuoco to do the first performance, and we repeated Carmen, Merry Widow.
Q: All in all, you did about how many Ruth Page ballets?
A: At least ten.
Q: Could you say, "at least ten . . . ."
A: We did at least ten ballets of Ruth Page, if not more. We also did parts of different ballets, pas de deux, and Carmina Burana. First, parts of Carmina and then the whole production.
Q: Why?
A: I liked her way of choreography, because I was influenced and am a student of choreography of Leonide Massine. I saw some similarity in Ruth's approach, some modern influence in that time, I guess, after Massine. Ruth was the most similar, with a classical technique with a modern approach to movement. I felt sort of at home with her movements and her approach, with her view on the dance, and also her personality was very dear to me and we got very friendly. I guess this also had a bearing on the cooperation, because I also invited her for guest teaching, guest lecturer, and many activities. We did that cooperation. After closing her company, she didn't immediately want to be . . . I think I proposed for her to come to Pittsburgh more permanently, but she didn't want to leave Chicago. She really was so tied to Chicago that she really didn't want to leave. We did as much as possible with her as a guest choreographer and guest collaborator.
Q: Can you describe a little bit some experiences you had with Ruth here in Pittsburgh working as a guest choreographer and collaborator?
A: She came in and brought her films. Some she staged, and some she was helped by Kenny Johnson, who knew and danced almost all of her ballets. He was helping her, and I think all of the dancers, Patricia and Orrin, also helped somewhat. She was also correcting and adding to it. Catulli Carmina, she was here to choreograph the whole thing.
Related Place
Pittsburgh (production location of)