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Nicolas Petrov No.02 [April 3, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0608
Run Time
0h 21m 10s
Date Produced
April 3 1987
Q: What was it like for the dancers in your company to be working with Ruth? Was she tough? Did they like her? Did they hate her?
A: The dancers in the company were very impressed in knowing that the great Ruth Page was here, and this was actually . . . fifty percent of the ensemble were students -- half students, half dancers. It was not yet a fully professional company. Only the soloists were high calibre, but basically, the company was very young and were impressed with having Ruth Page here and her approach. Actually, Ruth was tough because what she wants, she wants like that. There was no different way. She was very sweet on how she was talking with them, sort of motherly, sort of very friendly. They established a liking to her very fast. It was not just my sympathy. I think the dancers shared with me the same feeling. They liked to work with her, and they liked to work very closely with Kenny because he knew very well all of the movements. There was very pleasant collaboration.
Q: Are there any particular stories, funny incidents, or anything that ever happened that stands out in your mind regarding your work with Ruth?
A: There were several things. I was learning . . . actually I didn't mention Frankie and Johnny and also Merry Widow, where she wanted me to do Popoff. Ruth said, "Darling, you will do Popoff." I said, "Okay, I will do Popoff." Actually, I didn't know the roles so much as I saw them on the film. I didn't know who was Popoff or who was who in the film actually. I guess I mixed it up. I started to work, and she was sort of . . . for a while I didn't dance because . . . . Going back to movement and all of that. I liked to work with her on those things as I felt with Massine. It was a subject, a story, something that I could relate to: a role. Basically, in Europe, I was doing lots of character work for Massine, and it was in my field and was pretty pleasant for me to do.
Q: When was the last time the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre did a Page ballet?
A: Merry Widow was repeated several times. Actually, we thought it would be filmed at the Pittsburgh Ballet. They used the conductor, Ottavio DeRosa, who did the version in Chicago.
Q: How many years has it been since you've done a Page ballet?
A: When I quit Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and I formed here the American Dance Ensemble, we brought in Carmina Burana and repeated it two times. Kenneth staged it. Ruth came just to supervise.
Q: Recently?
A: It was about three or four years ago. We even planned for it most recently. But, you see, we have also the faculty here choreographing and bringing in the costumes and all. We also revived Bolero with the American Dance Ensemble. We also revived Romeo [and Juliet] and Carmina Burana with Merry Widow, about three or four years ago.
Q: In your opinion, what is it about Page ballets that makes them work with the audience?
A: Their simplicity. Ruth's ballets are very clear. They have a story that really works in the eyes of the public because they can relate to it. They have everything they understand, like Carmen or Merry Widow. All the story ballets [are] the short version of the opera, and even if they didn't know the opera, they knew the story. Romeo [and Juliet] for example, it was not the total story, but the fragments of the story which presented the whole story in a short twenty minutes. So, with all that, the public could really relate to those ballets and didn't need to be a sophisticated dance audience. Or anybody, sophisticated or not, could relate to the ballets and could enjoy them. They were nicely put together with nice costumes. She always chose very good costumes and very good designers like André Delfau, who was one of her designers before he became her husband. But I met him here when he came to design the Alice in Wonderland, and Catulli Carmina he designed here in Pittsburgh. It seems that even Pittsburgh has a premiere of Ruth Page ballets. Alice in Wonderland and Catulli Carmina were premiered here in Pittsburgh.
Q: Where would you place Ruth Page in the rank of choreographers?
A: I would place Ruth Page as one of the leading choreographers of the United States, because she has a specific style. She's the Massine of America. Possibly the United States is not too taken by the works of Massine, but they were taken by the works of Ruth Page, who actually was presenting that what Massine presented for Europe. She was certainly a great era of the American dance. It was not pure American modern à la Martha Graham, and it was not the symphonic, classical, academic style of Balanchine. It was a unique style and a unique period of the American ballet, which is what she did. It seems that she was on the right track, because today famous young choreographers who become famous by working on the same principals to put together modern and classical techniques and style, like Jiri Kilyan. I would say eighty percent of the contemporary choreographers work on a joint technique. It's not purely classical or purely modern. I would say modern and classical are losing a little ground, but this joint style is gaining.
Q: How did Ruth's ballets help in the growth of the Pittsburgh Ballet?
A: Ruth Page also very much influenced the Pittsburgh Ballet. The Pittsburgh Ballet didn't have a large budget, didn't have any repertoire, and sort of [was] almost required to have full-length ballets. So we started with the Nutcracker, like everybody else has. After Nutcracker, we didn't know what direction in which to go. I planned to bring also Roland Petit and Béjart, but the Béjart tours in the United States in that period of time were not very
successful, so I got resisting opinions on the board and it was decided that Béjart was not for us.
     Ruth was the most approachable for us. Plus, we also had three dancers from her company that were also giving that influence of the Chicago Ballet on the Pittsburgh Ballet. I believe that it continued even later when I left the company, because Patrik Frantz also used the same ballets and the same repertoire that was done during the time that I was there. So, her work certainly influenced the Pittsburgh Ballet until the arrival of Patricia Wilde, when naturally, the Balanchine style started to dominate the repertory.
     In my time, it was sort of a strange situation. Pittsburgh was regularly compared to the Pennsylvania Ballet. And the Pennsylvania Ballet had the Balanchine repertoire, and Barbara Weissberger, then the director of the Ballet, helped me to lend dancers. She sort of hinted to me, "Don't do that Balanchine repertoire." So we really had only at that time Pas de Dix, which was really not Balanchine; he just revised it as a short variation piece. Because I sort of committed myself to Barbara Weissberger that I would do another line, I would do the Massine line. I wouldn't do the New York City Ballet style, I would do the American Ballet Theatre style, and it would therefore be called the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, as the name says. That was the most appropriate. Ruth was the most appropriate for this company.
     Besides, I also did some of my ballets, and full-length ballets would be brought in -- people like Freddie Franklin, who staged Giselle and other full-length ballets. We felt that Pittsburgh needed full-length ballets and that would be bought. We had no full-length ballets and, except on the evenings we presented Ruth's ballets, it was not selling very much. It was the full-length ballets and Ruth's ballets that were selling. Sometimes we have to do them. We couldn't just present our ideas, saying, "This is our idea and we will present that." We also had to go with what the public was buying. Ruth's ballets were what the public liked, at least in that time. I don't know now because her company's not existing and her ballets are being revived in different companies, but it still seems that lots of cities have very successful revivals of her ballets.
Q: Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you would like to talk about?
A: I think you've covered it all.
Q: Thank you very much.
Related Place
Pittsburgh (production location of)