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Ruth Page No. 08 [March 20, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0550
Run Time
0h 18m 32s
Date Produced
March 20 1985
Q: Okay. So, where were we? Teachers, actually, we were talking about. Then . . . [when you went to . . .] jumping ahead . . . . Well, in 1920, in London, Adolph Bolm introduced you to another teacher.
A: Cecchetti?
Q: Yes.
A: Oh, yes. He was supposed to be the greatest teacher in the world. He was sent from Italy just to teach Pavlova. And he spent a great deal of his life in Russia teaching Pavlova, because he was considered so great. But he had a system, a real system, and I appreciate the fact that Bolm sent me to him. I studied with him in London and again in Monte Carlo.
Q: In Monte Carlo.
A: Yes. And it was different from the teaching of today. Every Monday you did the same thing. Every Tuesday you did the same thing, the same adagios, so that you knew them all. Nobody teaches that way anymore, I don't think. And when you did the barre -- he was an old man, at least he seemed a million years old to me -- he would sit with his head down, you know, and pound [his cane], and you would think he wasn't looking. But, believe you me, if you did anything wrong, that stick was thrown at you! He got up and really whacked you!
Q: Oh, my.
A: He really did.
Q: And how was he especially helpful? His emphasis on technique?
A: Yes. He was so correct. His little port de bras. Nothing left to the imagination. It was just all the way it should be, really classical, you know.
Q: And was that good discipline for you because that was different from [Bolm]?
A: Well, it was just so perfect. The way he did it was perfect.
Q: Now, there's a photograph of you in a pose that Cecchetti has called "the world's most perfect arabesque."
A: Well, it's a perfect arabesque, but I had gotten into it quite by accident, I assure you! The camera just happened to be there. Yes. It's a perfect arabesque. I think so myself.
Q: It's beautiful.
A: Yes. As I said, it was just the camera happened to be there when I got into it.
Q: Luck.
A: Just luck. It really was just luck. I use that picture all the time because it's so correct. The pose, everything about it is correct.
Q: The pose is beautiful.
A: Yes.
Q: So, you didn't study with Cecchetti very long. It was just over the summer in London, when you were touring with the Ballet Intime.
A: I think I studied with him when I was dancing at the London Coliseum. Wasn't it?
Q: Yes.
A: Yes . . . Bolm took his company there, and I danced at the London Coliseum with Bolm and that's when I had lessons with Cecchetti, I think.
Q: But then later, when you went to Monte Carlo on your honeymoon . . .
A: Yes.
Q: . . . and you were going to audition for Diaghilev, then Cecchetti was your teacher again, at that time.
A: Yes.
Q: There are some wonderful stories connected with that audition.
A: With Diaghilev? Well, he was such a great man, you know. He recognized talent right away, and he wouldn't pay attention to anybody that didn't have talent. I was scared to death, of course, to dance for him, but I did. He asked me to be in the company and I was so sort of taken aback.
     He came to Cecchetti's class and saw me in class, and that's when he asked me if I would be in the company. And so I said yes. I forgot I was on my honeymoon. So, my husband came home one more time all alone, and I joined the Diaghilev company. But I didn't stay long, because I knew that I would either have to stay with him, oh, 7 years, something like that, to be anything, really, in the company, or I would have to have my career in America. And I figured I didn't want to stay in Europe. I would have liked to, but I was already married. And so I had an offer to go to Buenos Aires to do the Coq d'Or with Bolm, which I always wanted to do. And that was a long trip in those days because, you know, you had to go by boat. So I came home for one day and then went right off to Buenos Aires.
Q: Now, that was a very important role for you.
A: It was.
Q: You said one time the Queen of Shemakhan was a role that you would go to the ends of the earth for.
A: Yes, I did. I said, "Oh, if anybody would offer me that role, I'd go to the ends of the earth to do it." So, of course I had to do it! I had to go.
Q: You had to go . . . . So what was there about the role that you liked so much about it? It's very exotic, but what else? Why?
A: Oh, I don't know. I like the music, and I like the idea. I like coming out of a tent and dancing for the old Dodon. Wasn't that his name -- King Dodon? I think that was his name. I don't remember much about the story.
Q: I don't either.
A: I can sing it for you, if you like.
Q: You can sing the music? Really?
A: Yes.
Q: That's what you remember more than the story? All the music, I guess, keeps running through your head.
A: Yes. I don't want to sing it, I can't sing at all, but I mean I . . . .
Q: But you would remember the music.
A: Yes.
Q: I know what you mean . . . . So why was that a role, Ruth . . . I mean, was it the exoticism that was . . . .
A: I think so. Yes. I never wanted to do, oh, Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty, or any of those classical ballets. I wasn't interested in them at all. I really was only interested in creating dances myself. But that one was not mine, and I just wanted to do it. That's the only one I ever wanted to do. I never danced any of the classic roles, any of them. I didn't want to. Wasn't interested.
Q: It seems as though the kind of roles that you danced before you ever started doing your own choreographing so that you could create roles for yourself, but the kind of roles that you danced with Bolm were just kind of, in general, exotic and sort of elfin -- do you know what I mean? Kind of romantic roles, but not in the classical Swan Lake tradition. They were sort of . . . .
A: No. I don't remember.
Q: Well, I guess what I'm saying is that the roles that seemed to seek you out, or that you seemed especially suited for, seemed to be, perhaps, a reflection of the kind of person that you were -- some humor to them.
A: What?
Q: Humor. And a kind of gay, elfin quality. You were also very exotic. Kind of exotic.
A: Well, I did all kinds of dances. I just wanted to do different kinds of dances.
Q: Tell me about the dancing that you did as "Natasha Stepanova."
A: Well, that was just in the corps de ballet with Pavlova [sic].
Q: And then wasn't that also the name you used when you danced at the movie theatre?
A: Maybe I did. I guess I still used it then, because I didn't want to use my own name.
Q: But you did dances to . . . .
A: Make money! Whenever I needed money.
Q: Explain how that worked exactly. There was a movie and then you would perform, or how did that work?
A: Well, I remember there were two. There was the Rialto and the Rivoli in New York and they gave regular movies, but they always did a little preface to them, a prologue. Oh, somebody would sing, or somebody would dance. So they paid very well. So I would go whenever I needed money. But it was hard because you had to dance 4 times a day and 5 times on Saturday and Sunday. But I think that's one thing that made me very strong.
Q: And the name. You didn't want the name to get [known]. You didn't want to do it as Ruth Page because it was, after all . . . .
A: Yes. Very demeaning, I guess. I don't know what I thought.
Q: I don't know that you thought it was demeaning. In some of the things that you've written, you say, "Well, it was a good way to make money. I had to make money, had to live and so it was a fine thing to do."
A: That's right.
Q: Going back again. One of your very first roles, when you came to New York, you danced in a choreographic poem called "Falling Leaves." Do you remember that? Victor Herbert?
A: Oh, yes. That was in a show. I remember that it was at the Century Theatre, and it was with Victor Herbert, and there was a ballet in it called "Falling Leaves." And I was in that. I remember that.
Q: Yes. It was called Miss 1917, was the name of the revue.
A: Miss 1917 was it?
Q: Yes. And the rehearsal pianist was George Gershwin.
A: Oh, I'd forgotten that. Bless him. That's interesting.
Q: What was that like?
A: I don't remember him [then]. When I remember George Gershwin was [when] we were in Cuba at the same time. I was dancing and he came to Cuba. Of course, he was so great and famous that everybody got out all the best music in Cuba for him. So I would go around with him and listen to all this wonderful music that they had in Cuba at that time. I don't know what it's like now. But he was a wonderful pianist, you know.
Q: Oh, yes.
A: And when he played the Rhapsody in Blue, it was just so exciting.
Q: I'm sure, yes, to have him play it himself.
A: Yes. It was very, very exciting.
Q: And yet, there he was making money as your rehearsal pianist. And nothing special that stands out about him? Just doing a job?
A: I don't remember. Just probably doing a job. Everybody has to start somehow, you know. That's great words of wisdom.
Q: Oh, I don't know, Ruth. You always, I think . . . you know, you very quickly started at the top and went right out in front.
A: And went right backwards!
Q: I don't think many people would agree with that. We talked a little about the film Danse Macabre that you did with Adolph Bolm. It was the first ballet film ever done with music.
A: It's a good film. It's still a good film. It's very short. I think it's only about 20 minutes, I think. And it's done in the Goya style, I remember, the Goya kind of wig and the Goya kind of costume. And Francis Bruguière took it. He was a very great photographer . . . . And Bolm and I. I don't know what happened to it, that film. I don't know where it is or anything about it.
Q: It's probably . . . it may be in the archives.
A: Oh, it's probably where all my stuff is in New York.
Q: In New York.
A: In the Library of the Performing Arts. I suppose it's there. Or maybe Bolm did something with it. I don't know. Maybe I never had a copy of it. I don't know at all.
Q: How was it, Ruth? Were you very flattered when Bolm picked you as a partner, when he started, you know, his Ballet Intime, after the school? I mean, after all, you were really quite young, once you started dancing with him as your partner, you were barely even out of your teens.
A: Well, I wasn't especially flattered, no.
Q: Of course.
A: He should [have]. I was the best one around. Why shouldn't he take me?
Q: You were the best one around. It's clear when you look at photographs of you in all kinds of different poses and all kinds of different costumes from that period. It looks as though you could be anybody, and you could do anything. Anything.
A: Well, now, that's a little exaggerated!
Q: Yes, but a lot of different things. But, anyway, in the Music Box Revue . . . .
A: Well, I remember we did that, yes.
Q: In 1922 to 1924.
A: Yes.
Q: You danced two numbers. One was called "Under the Chandelier."
A: That was just straight, what we call, "toe dance." It was a toe solo, a classical dance, all pointe. We had an entourage, a corps de ballet, but I came out and did this toe solo. It was in the second act and it was nice.
Q: I understand they took it out of the show and then put it back in.
A: Yes. They didn't want it. Irving Berlin didn't want it because it wasn't his music. He can't write, he never could write dance music. And then we did a benefit. I can't remember what the benefit was, but it was such a hit at the benefit that they put it back in the show.
Q: Yes. It was the Actor's Equity Benefit you danced at with Chester Hale and everyone got so excited -- it had been out of the show and now it got put back in.
A: Yes.
Q: You also did a ballet, a dance really, called "Porcelain Maid." What do you remember about that one?
A: Well, that's the one I did with Stowitts. It was -- I don't know how to describe it. It was sort of a character dance where I was Chinese. No, I wasn't even Chinese. I was just something imaginary. But it was a cute little dance. Stowitts did it. I didn't choreograph it. I think he did it.
Q: And you hadn't been to the Orient yet?
A: No. This was just imaginary.
Q: When you were dancing with the Ballets Russes, where you were the first and, I believe, the only American [woman] ever to be part of the Ballets Russes -- is that right?
A: No. That was the Diaghilev company that I was the only American . . . .
Q: Yes. Right. That's right. The Ballets Russes. Yes.
A: That wasn't the Ballet Russe at all.
Q: Oh, it was the Diaghilev company called . . . .
A: No. Diaghilev's company never was called the Ballets Russes, I don't think [sic]. The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo?
Q: The Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.
A: Well, in this one . . . this company was run by a man, a Russian called Sergei Denham.
Q: Yes. Right.
A: And it was an entirely different thing from the one that Diaghilev had.
Q: When you danced with Diaghilev, though, you were the only, I think, American in the company and the only American . . . .
A: Yes.
Q: . . . George Balanchine . . . was very young and there, too.
A: Yes.
Q: What do you remember about him?
A: Well, I remember that he was great. His wife was named Tamara Gevergeva. I don't think they were married [sic], but anyway, he was with her at the time, and they did all these interesting pas de deux, and I loved them. Most people didn't like them, but I thought they were marvelous. So I asked him to do a dance for me, and he did one. It was called Polka Melancolique. I remember that very well. And of course he didn't stay there very long. He came back to America right away [sic]. Lincoln Kirstein brought him over. He was a great choreographer, I think. Everybody thinks so. It's not only just me.
Q: What do you remember of the Polka Melancolique? What was it? Do you even remember what the music was?
A: No, I don't remember. It was some ordinary music. And it was just a very charming little [dance]. It was very short, about five minutes. It wasn't a toe dance. I don't know if I ever did it or not. I can't remember.
Q: The notes on it are still around; the notes, you know, the notations of what it was. But it was something you just commissioned for the fun of it?
A: Well, I gave him $50 and it was hard for me to get up, find the $50, and he was tickled to death to get it. But I thought he was marvelous . . . .
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)