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. 07 [March 20, 1985]

Bookmark and Share
Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0549
Run Time
0h 19m 31s
Date Produced
March 20 1985
A: The Midwest . . . I always wanted to get out of the Midwest, but I never succeeded. I'm right back where I started.
Q: Well, I know, but not exactly. I mean you did manage to get out; you started getting out very young. But I know what you mean.
A: I got out of Indianapolis. But Chicago -- well, it's Chicago. It's an interesting city, I think. It's a beautiful city, very beautiful, and there are interesting people here. But I'd rather be in New York.
Q: I know. I know. You said that . . . .
A: A million times, I know. But I didn't have the sense to move. You know, when I had to give up my place at 1100 Lake Shore Drive, I should've gone to New York then, but somebody offered me this place to trade it. I didn't pay a cent for this place, and somebody offered me $1 million the other day. I thought, "Why don't I sell it and have some fun with a million dollars?" I could have a lot of fun, I suppose. But now I don't want to go.
Q: But you certainly did see the world a lot when you were very young.
A: Yes, I did. I certainly did. Yes.
Q: I know that you want to talk about Ravinia, the ballet operas. But I thought we might start by talking a little about your ballet teachers, your dancing teachers, because they've been very interesting . . . . Do you remember your first teacher, Anna Stanton?
A: I certainly do. She taught what they called then, "fancy dancing."
Q: "Fancy dancing?"
A: Fancy dancing. And it was in Indianapolis. She was the only teacher there. I don't remember much. I didn't learn anything, of course. She was my first teacher, and then Pavlova came, you know, to Indianapolis. I danced for her and she asked me to come up here to study with her. So I did that. I came to the Midway Gardens. And then she sent a teacher to Indianapolis to teach. His name was Jan Zalewski.
Q: Jan Zalewski?
A: Yes. It was time for him to take a vacation, so Pavlova said, "Well, you just teach her for an hour or two a day, and it would be a very nice vacation for you and it would be very good for little 'Rutie.'" So he came to Indianapolis. And he didn't speak a word of French or English or any language as far as I could see, so we didn't communicate very well. But those were my first teachers.
Q: Well, there's a wonderful story about your audition for Pavlova, about what she did with your hair. You danced for her and then she, so the story goes, she took and unpinned your hair.
A: Oh, yes. She parted it in the middle and said, "Theese is for dancers." And so I always wore my hair parted in the middle until I stopped dancing. It is a nice way for a dancer to wear their hair. They should wear it . . . .
Q: It was a wonderful, beautiful gesture for her to do that.
A: Yes. She was a genius, you know. Nobody like Pavlova.
Q: Yes. You've said that she is one of the very major influences of . . . .
A: Oh, yes. I think that everybody who saw her was affected in some way by her. I know all my generation were inspired to dance because of her, like Sir Frederick Ashton, Agnes de Mille . . . . All of us were around the same age, you know. She came to every little town. Imagine a great star going to Indianapolis. But she came and she danced. Oh, she was so great. And also, I don't think there's been anybody since her who's as good as she was.
Q: Was it, Ruth, that she was so expressive?
A: Yes. She had charisma. And when she danced, you know, her whole body . . . . And she didn't do anything hard. The dancers of today, what they have to do is so hard. And they make them do everything, a million technical things, you know. And they do them marvelously. The dancers of today are terrific. They can do everything, even the corps de ballet dancers. I watched the class at the Paris Opera Ballet just recently, and those girls! They're all the same size, the same height, they're all tall, and they all dance like a million dollars. But they don't have anything to dance. No. The Paris Opera is a mess. They don't give them anything to dance.
Q: What about a sense of personal style, too. Did you learn the importance of that from Pavlova?
A: Oh, no. I don't think so. No.
Q: You had it already?
A: Yes. I think so. I didn't want to be like anybody else. Now, they're all just alike. And that Ailey Company that I saw last night. They're terrific dancers. They can do everything.
Q: Yes, they can. They're good. What did you think of the program last night?
A: The what?
Q: What did you think of the program they did?
A: Oh, I liked it very much. Talley Beatty is an old friend. He's danced with me a lot. He did a new ballet which was very good. And they did their thing that they do all the time, you know, those hymns [Revelations] . . . . They do that on every program. I talked with him about it last night, and I said, "You must be sick of doing that." And he said, "Everybody -- that's all they want." And I know that he means it. I don't know what's worse: to be a big success or a big failure.
Q: What do you mean?
A: Well, what I mean is, now my Merry Widow is so successful, I just can't get rid of it. People won't take anything -- "Oh, no, no, no. We want the Merry Widow. We like your Merry Widow." And he's that way with that. He's been doing it for 35 years, or something . . . . And it's a wonderful ballet. It's marvelous. And they do it marvelously. But, of course, if you're a complete failure, then I suppose you don't do anything. Something in between is sort of uninteresting, too. So there you are.
Q: It's boring to be stuck with your successes and be doing [the same things] over and over again.
A: Yes. Very boring.
Q: Is there anything that you remember, going back to the dancing teachers, about Zalewski? I mean, that must have been your first serious dance training.
A: Well, he taught me the fundamentals of technique, ballet technique. I don't know if he was a good teacher or not. I was so young, and we couldn't talk. Pavlova sent him, so I suppose he must have been all right. I don't remember very much about him.
Q: And then after you moved to New York, after you graduated and you went to New York to the French School, the finishing school . . . , Pavlova sent you to someone else. That's when she sent you to Adolph Bolm.
A: Yes.
Q: Who was really, you said, your first great teacher, I suppose, in a way.
A: Well, he was not a good teacher at all. He really wasn't. He didn't like to teach. He would stand, you know, and you'd be doing your barre and he'd do pointe tendus, just like that [indicates turned-in foot]. They should be done like that [indicates turned-out foot], you know.
Q: You mean his technique was not very good?
A: Well, he was a character dancer. He was marvelous as Prince Igor. See, Nijinsky was the great classical one. I never saw him. But Bolm was a great character dancer. And he was a wonderful man. But he wasn't a good teacher at all, I don't think.
Q: Why do you think Pavlova sent him to you?
A: Well, he was a great personality and he was doing things, and you could learn . . . if you were smart, you learn so much from him. But if you were just an ordinary pupil, I don't think you could ever say he could teach you much. But if you were an artist yourself, or sort of a potential artist. . . , I thought he was marvelous. He was terrific.
Q: What kind of influence, what do you think you really gained from him, Ruth, that was especially valuable to you later on? I know you spent a number of years working with him, but when you came to him for the first time, which was, I think in 19 . . . .
A: That's when I was in school.
Q: Was when you were in school.
A: What year was that?
Q: 1917. You were 17 years old when you danced, when you studied with Adolph Bolm. Oh, and you were then, after all, just new. As you say, his barre technique left a little bit to be desired.
A: Well, he didn't like to teach at all. He liked to create. And he was interested in other things besides dancing, too . . . . Yes. He was very interested in music and the theatre and everything.
Q: I mean, he was really a disciple of Fokine, so his technique was not important, or not the main object.
A: No . . . . Well, he and Fokine were sort of . . . . I don't know if he was especially interested in Fokine. I was interested in Fokine because Fokine was a great choreographer. Bolm, I don't think, was a good choreographer. He was adequate.
Q: No. I guess he was not really great . . . . He had been Pavlova's partner.
A: Yes.
Q: And I guess you were one of his first students when he started his ballet school in New York.
A: Oh, no.
Q: No. I think as the story goes, he decided to stay with his family in New York because of the Russian Revolution [sic] and Pavlova said, "Well, you should open a school, Adolph, and you should teach Ruth . . . ."
A: His stepdaughter was the same age as I am . . . . She was my best friend, Valitchka Bolm . . . . She wasn't a dancer.
Q: Wasn't a dancer.
A: No. His wife wasn't a dancer either. Mrs. [Beata] Bolm.
Q: It must have been nice to have a friend who was at least understanding of the world of dance, because I don't imagine there were too many people at the French School for Girls who understood much about dance. Or am I wrong? Were there a lot of girls interested in dancing?
A: No. I don't think anybody was. I think I was the only one in that "great school" who was interested in dance. They weren't interested in anything, as far as I could see.
Q: They were also willing to let you . . . . They were pretty flexible in their curriculum. I mean, when you picked up a year later and went on tour with Pavlova, the school said, "Fine." Right?
A: Yes.
Q: No problem.
A: Yes. It's true, But I didn't have to get any education. I'm not educated at all. I really am not. I didn't go to college. I graduated from Tudor Hall, which was a very, very good school. I remember I was president of my class.
Q: I know.
A: And that was fun. And I think it was an excellent school, but we learned such useless things.
Q: Like what?
A: Well, I mean, I studied Latin for 5 years and I think that's completely useless. Why not study a living language? And we studied "Caeser's Bridge." I can see that bridge right now, every detail of it was up there, and we had to learn what each bolt was. Well, what do you teach that for to girls? Maybe boys would be interested in it, but I thought that was a silly thing to learn. Trying to think of what else we learned. Well, of course . . . they had lecturers who came once a week, which was interesting and sort of stimulated us. I remember one, Powys was his name -- P-O-W-Y-S -- John Cowper Powys. He used to talk about Goethe and make us girls read Goethe and all kinds of things that we never heard of before, you know. So that was interesting for a school in the Midwest, I think.
Q: Later on, you wrote, in 1924 . . . an article. You said dancers should have a thorough understanding of music, sculpture, literature and painting if you're ever going to do anything of real artistic value.
A: My God! Words of wisdom from the young! That's a pretty big order, don't you think?
Q: Yes, I do think.
A: I think that's a very big order.
Q: It's very interesting that you wrote this in 1924, when you had really not even begun to choreograph in any kind of serious way, because you pointed out, you said, it's very difficult; you need to do a great deal of research, if you're going to do anything original and important in dance; you need to understand about things, you know. Has research been an important part?
A: Research?
Q: Yes.
A: Well, I don't remember doing any.
Q: You did a lot. . . everywhere you went, when you traveled.
A: Oh, well, yes. I was interested in everything. When I traveled around everyplace, I studied the dance, local dances, wherever I went . . . . I remember coming home from Japan -- what they call, you know, "via ports" -- and my father said that he would go to see all the folk dancing with me if I would go to see all the hospitals with him. So, I've seen every hospital in the Orient, and I was extremely interested in this. I really was. It was awfully interesting to see how the different hospitals were run, and how they were different from ours. I don't know how much he enjoyed the folk dancing. But I remember one night, the folk dancing -- I think [it] was in Rangoon or someplace -- didn't start 'til midnight. And it went on 'til 6 o'clock in the morning. And about 4 o'clock he said, "Ruth, haven't you had enough?" I said, "Oh no, Father. You have to stay 'til the end. That was our bargain." So poor Father had to toe the line.
Q: But you loved [it]. That was a long trip. I mean, that was an 8-month trip . . . .
A: Was it?
Q: Well, yes, of course.
A: I guess maybe it was.
Q: It was 8 months long and you've written some very interesting things about the dancers that you saw, in Bali for example.
A: Well, that's the most interesting place in the world, as far as art is concerned, I think.
Q: Why? Why especially?
A: Well, because they have such marvelous music, and they have wonderful dancers, and the place is beautiful, and they don't seem to have anything that isn't beautiful there. They have rice fields which are beautiful and everybody seems to be able to dance for some reason. They're all dancers. And wonderful music. And beautiful costumes . . . .
Q: You talked about the dancing in Bali, where the children's dances, apparently, really impressed you.
A: That was the Legong. Yes. Two little girls do that together . . . . That's a gorgeous dance. Marvelous dance. I learned it.
Q: You learned it?
A: Yes.
Q: Well, you don't say that in the things that I've read, so far. You learned it. It's a very long, complicated dance.
A: No. I stayed there a month with my mother. I don't know where Father [was], what
happened to him. Mother stayed in Bali with me. We stayed for at least a month and I worked
every day on the dances.
Q: You talked about how the teaching is done there.
A: Yes.
Q: That somebody dances and then you follow. How does that work?
A: Well, it seems to be fine. One little girl gets back of the other little girl [and] pushes her arms in the right positions, and her head and shows everything -- doesn't talk. They just show. Pushes her arms the right way. So it's a very strange way to teach. We don't teach that way at all.
Q: Also, I guess, they go through it from the beginning to end. They don't do one part over and over and over again. They do the whole thing from the beginning to end and then start over.
A: Well, they do some repeats. By the time I got there, they knew all the dances and so they just . . . . I don't think they learned them that way. I don't know, but I don't think they did.
Q: What did they think when you wanted to learn? I mean, that's a religious dance.
A: Yes. Well, there are religious dances and dances for pleasure, both. And it's hard to tell the difference, which is which. They're also done with fans and finger flutterings and all
the fingers going. But I don't know what they thought of my [learning the dances] . . . . We couldn't talk because they didn't speak any languages I knew, and I didn't speak any languages they knew. When I said I was going back to America, they said, "Where is America? Is it in Java?" Isn't that sweet?
Q: Yes.
A: That shows how innocent they were. They're probably sophisticated now.
Q: Now, yes. The whole world has grown more sophisticated.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)