dontate now

Join Email List

Facebook  Become a Fan on Facebook
twitter  Follow Us on Twitter

329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

Search Collections

Ruth Page No. 03 [March 18, 1985]

Bookmark and Share
Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0545
Run Time
0h 19m 9s
Date Produced
March 18 1985
Q: So, you're in New York. You started in New York with your mother. You've just finished the South American tour, and you came back and finished at Tudor Hall. Did you spend . . . .
A: No, no. I finished at Tudor Hall before I went.
Q: Before you went . . . .
A: Yes. I graduated from Tudor Hall in 1916.
Q: 1916? You were 13 years old.
A: No. I was 16 [sic].
Q: Let's see. You were born in . . . .
A: I think so. Yes. I was 16.
Q: You were born in 1903.
A: No. I was born in 1900 or 1899. I'm not sure which.
Q: That's good, because in one of the books and in Who's Who, I think it's wrong.
A: Probably.
Q: Isn't that interesting? Okay. So, at 16, you finished. You went on the South American tour. You came back and you went to New York.
A: I stayed . . . I went . . . yes, on the tour. I stayed right in New York.
Q: Oh, you stayed in New York.
A: I didn't go back to Indianapolis, ever.
Q: You never went back to Indianapolis?
A: No.
Q: And your mother?
A: Mother went back to Indianapolis.
Q: And so you were in New York -- alone?
A: Yes.
Q: Where did you live?
A: I was at school. Miss Williams and Miss McClellan's French School for Girls.
Q: I see. So you went back to school, and it was a finishing school, really. What did you do all day there?
A: Well, I took a dancing lesson every day. They were chaperoned. I went down and took a private dancing lesson every day from Adolph Bolm. Then, oh, we were supposed to speak French, but we never did. And we were taken to everything. We went to the Metropolitan art museum, studied Italian art. And we were taken to the theatre a lot. We had 19 girls there, and we just had a good time. I don't think we learned anything.
Q: Well, there were classes, certainly, in English and history, no?
A: No. I can't remember any classes at all. Maybe there were. There probably were, of course. I remember the principal of the school was very interested in Italian art, so she used to take us to the Met all the time and we studied Italian art there. The Met was right near where the school was.
Q: And to the ballet? Did they take you to the ballet a lot, too?
A: Yes. Once in a while.
Q: What were the other girls like?
A: I don't know. I don't remember any of them. They weren't any of them very interesting. They were just girls like me, who came from all over the country, who were getting finished in New York.
Q: You must have had, though, a background different from the other girls. I mean, after all, you spent a year traveling all through South America with Pavlova.
A: Well, yes, that made me kind of different . . . . Well, they were just ordinary girls. I don't know what they did. I have no idea.
Q: And did you like the feeling of being different?
A: I never thought anything about it.
Q: You were an unusual teenager.
A: Yes, I guess so. But I didn't think so at the time.
Q: You were just being you.
A: Yes.
Q: Okay. So there you were in New York, and you were studying with Adolph Bolm. Then what happened?
A: What happened?
Q: Yes.
A: Well, I joined Adolph Bolm's Ballet Intime. I went places, traveled with him. It was a small company. It was a very interesting company. I think I remember the first third of the program was done either by [Carlos] Salzedo, a harpist, or [Georges] Barrère, a flutist: both excellent musicians. Then we did the second part of the program. We went to London together. I danced at the Coliseum with Bolm.
Q: Now, by that time weren't you the principal dancer, the prima ballerina?
A: Yes, yes. I certainly was.
Q: And you were then 17 or 18 years old, 19 years old?
A: I think about 19.
Q: Now, how was it that you selected him to be the place where you would study dancing?
A: Because Anna Pavlova sent me to him. He and Anna Pavlova were great, great friends, and she sent me as a present to him.
Q: As a present?
A: That's right. Yes.
Q: Was she a very sort of dictatorial kind of person, Ruth? Did she say, "You must go study!" or, did she just . . . ?
A: No.
Q: Do you feel as though she took a special interest in you? That you were sort of her protege, really, a little?
A: I guess so.
Q: Anyway. So you went and you started [with Bolm]. What was your first impression of him as a teacher and then finally as . . . ?
A: Well, I used to babysit for his child. He had a little child named Olaf Bolm, and that was the best time I had with him, because while I was babysitting, Prokofiev was there and he practiced the piano. And I got to hear the great Prokofiev every time I would babysit. I got to hear Prokofiev. So, I loved babysitting!
Q: Oh, my! Your mother must have . . . . Did you write your mother about that?
A: Oh, sure. I wrote to Mother about everything.
Q: She must have been just thrilled.
A: I was thrilled. He was a very exciting person, a great composer. He was a great pianist, too.
Q: I didn't know he was a great pianist.
A: At least I thought so. At the time, he was always practicing the piano.
Q: And he lived there, or he was a guest, or friend?
A: No, he didn't live there . . . . They had a piano, and they let him practice on it.
Q: That's wonderful. And you babysat. Then you started out and became instantly the prima ballerina of the company? I mean, how did that happen? Over a period of time?
A: I don't know; it just evolved. I was the best dancer he had, and so I just got all the leading roles.
Q: And then he began to design roles for you to some degree, didn't he? To pick, to do certain kinds of ballets that would be ones that would show you [off] to best advantage?
A: No. I just did whatever he told me to do. He didn't do them specially for me. There were ballets that he wanted to do. The first one we did was The Birthday of the Infanta . . . and we came out here to Chicago to do that. That was the first time I came to Chicago [sic], and I think that was 1919, if I'm not mistaken. I don't remember when it was. But that was a great big important ballet, and I had the part of the Infanta. It was her birthday. I didn't have to dance hardly at all. It was just pantomime.
Q: I've seen it. We have here a picture. That costume, it's enormous, a gigantic costume.
A: The Velasquez. Yes. That was the first big role I ever had. I remember, I think it was the [Chicago] Tribune said, "Ruth Page was perfect as the Infanta." So, of course, I thought, "Oh, well, this is too easy -- 'perfect' right away!" I've been going down ever since.
Q: Hardly! That's nice, though . . . 'Perfect,' they said. So that was the first role you danced. And then what happened?
A: I don't remember. Oh, I remember. This is what broke up my relationship with Bolm. I was invited to go dance for Hirohito in Japan. They should have asked Bolm, but they didn't. They just asked me. I shouldn't have gone, but I wanted to go so much that I did go, and I didn't see Bolm anymore after that [sic].
Q: Talk a little bit more about the dance before we move on to that, of the kind of dance that you did at the Ballet Intime.
A: Well, I did a Butterfly dance, and I did a Chopin Waltz, with a scarf and bare feet, I remember. And I did a Peter Pan dance. I was always doing Peter Pan dances. And I did one called [Les] Precieux Ridicules. He did one for me -- what was that dance called? It was a Chinese -- The Rivals, I think it was called, The Rivals. And it was between me and two men, two Chinese. I don't remember much about the dance. Oh, and I did one called The Bumblebee [Schubert's The Bee], where I was supposed to be a peasant walking in the fields, and I was chased by a bumblebee. And it was a very hard dance. It was very hard to get started right with the music. The music was very tricky. And the first night that I did it, I missed and got the whole thing wrong. I didn't do one step right. Then I went home and cried and cried and cried. And the next day, the papers came out and said that we had found a great new dramatic dancer! I was dramatic all right! I was really scared to death! I made up all the steps as I went along. But I've never forgotten a dance since then.
Q: Yes. But now, the kind of dancing that you were doing was very different from the kind of dancing that you were doing when you were dancing in the corps de ballet with Pavlova. I mean, it was much more classic and this was the beginning of a more . . . .
A: Well, she didn't do only classical things.
Q: No.
A: No.
Q: I know, but wasn't his more in the direction of a looser, freer . . . .
A: No.
Q: Did you do any light ballet kinds of things at all? Ballet Intime? No?
A: I don't think we did. I don't remember doing any.
Q: Did you like it better? Better than the formal ballets?
A: I liked everything! I was very easy to please. I liked all dancing, whatever it was. I never did any dancing that I didn't like.
Q: That's wonderful.
A: But it's true.
Q: That whatever it was, it was just the joy of doing it, Ruth?
A: No. I liked doing different kinds of things. I did whatever my teacher told me to do, and I loved it. And then he suggested that I start making some of my own dances. That was Bolm who started that.
Q: Yes, it was.
A: And I made up the Peter Pan dance. And what were the others? I made up quite a few. I can't remember all of them.
Q: Now, when you first started with Bolm, to make up dances, it was really the beginning of your career as a choreographer.
A: Yes.
Q: Were there principles that you applied to it? Did you sit down and figure it out? How did you go about it?
A: No, I never sat down and figured anything out. I just did it, just according to intuition. I'd take a pretty good piece of music that I liked and have an idea for the music, and then I would choreograph it.
Q: In front of a mirror in a rehearsal hall?
A: Oh, anyplace, wherever it would be.
Q: Even without a mirror, sometimes, you would just sort of . . .?
A: Sure. You don't need a mirror. It's more fun if you have a mirror, but you don't have to have a mirror.
Q: It's different, isn't it? The way that people choreograph nowadays seems to be dancers moving in front of the mirror.
A: Well, if you've got one. If you're going to choreograph a ballet, you have to have other dancers. You have to tell them what to do. They don't have to have a mirror, but it's nice if you have a mirror. Dancers always like to see themselves.
Q: But then you choreographed for yourself essentially. Did you always have an image of yourself in terms of how it would look to somebody in the audience seeing you dancing on the stage?
A: Well, you have to feel whether your dance is what we call "right"; whether it's "right," you know. Some dances are forced, and they don't seem to be right with the music; they don't seem to be right for the idea. You have to make sure that you're doing something "right."
Q: Is it a feeling of it, Ruth, of it being "right."
A: Yes. Or somebody will tell you. Louis Horst was a marvelous critic. I worked with Louis Horst a lot, and he could always tell you if your dance was good or not good. And if he said it wasn't good, you just forgot it. Yes. He was a wonderful critic.
Q: What was the difficult thing, when you began choreographing your own dances for yourself? What was the most difficult thing about it for you?
A: Oh, I think the most difficult thing is to get a good idea and then try to think of something original for it, or try to get the idea of the music to fit the idea. I think that's the most difficult thing. And then, of course, it's much harder if you're working with a group of dancers. Then, you really have to be on your toes. You have to. It's much harder to choreograph for a group than it is for yourself.
Q: Sure. Do you think that there's any subject for which the dance is inappropriate?
A: [I think] there are lots of subjects. Don't you?
Q: I don't know. It seems these days . . . I mean we're jumping ahead . . . it seems these days as though almost anything . . . .
A: Well, I wouldn't like to make up a dance about baking a cake. Maybe somebody could, but I couldn't.
Q: I don't know. Didn't you have a little bit of that in a ballet you did called An American Pattern? I guess she doesn't bake a cake, but she does a lot of cooking [sic] and moving around with a broom, using it. But it wasn't about baking a cake, of course, it was about something else.
A: No. I don't know. I suppose you could dance everything if you look at it that way.
Q: What kind of subjects, when you talk about ideas for . . . .
A: Well, that was a very good idea, the girl being chased by a bumblebee. That wasn't my idea, that was Bolm's. Oh, you can take ideas, a gavotte, or a minuet, or an obertass, or a Hungarian rhapsody. There are all kinds of native dances or national dances that you could work on and do them a little bit differently from the way they did it, or add new steps, or you don't have to be literal at all.
Q: Once you started doing your own choreography, did you feel as though you'd come home? That this was the right thing to do? I mean, what you wanted to do was both be a choreographer and a dancer?
A: I always wanted to be a choreographer more than I wanted to be a dancer.
Q: More than you wanted to be a dancer?
A: Yes. I always wanted to make up my own dances. Always. From the beginning.
Q: Is that because . . .?
A: I would do other people's, but I preferred my own.
Q: Is that because you used to make them up as a little girl?
A: I suppose so.
Q: Is it also because you have a sense of lightness of purpose, about the way it ought to be?
A: I just like to make up dances. I've always liked to make up dances. I've always had ideas for dances, and I've always liked to make them up.
Q: And when you looked at other people's choreography, did you sometimes say to yourself, "I could do that better," or, " I would do it differently," or . . .?
A: No. I never criticized other people's choreography.
Q: You just wanted to do what you wanted to do.
A: Yes.
Q: In those early days, it sounds as though you just set your mind to dancing, got into doing it and just did it.
A: That's right.
Q: Was there ever a moment, Ruth, when you said to yourself, "My goodness, this is a lot to do"? I mean, there must have been moments of self-doubt, some moments of . . . .
A: Well, I suppose so. I don't remember. I think I could have done a lot of other things besides choreograph. I think I was stupid to stick to choreography.
Q: Really?
A: Yes.
Q: Like what?
A: Oh, I could have been an actress, or I could have been lots of different things -- a writer.
Q: I think you could have been an actress and a writer, that's for sure.
A: Yes. But I was stubborn. I wanted to be a choreographer. I didn't want to be anything else . . . . I had lots of other offers, but I just wanted to be a choreographer. I don't know why.
Q: Now, I mean, there was something I think that I read about, one time. They wanted you to be in a movie and you turned that down.
A: Yes. I was in one called Danse Macabre, with Adolph Bolm, and it was very good. I wish I had a copy of it. It's very good. Just short. Saint-Saens, I believe, wrote the music. And Adolph Bolm did the choreography. But it was a very good movie . . . . I didn't want to be in the movies at all.
Q: And you didn't want to be a writer.
A: Well, I've always written, but sort of just because I felt like it.
Q: Do you still keep a journal? A diary?
A: Yes.
Q: Every day?
A: Usually, yes. It isn't very interesting, though. I just do it because I can't remember things, when I did things, and this is just a factual diary that just says, "Such and such, I did then . . . . ." Unless [otherwise] I can't remember anything . . . .
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)