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Ruth Page No. 09 [March 20, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0551
Run Time
0h 19m 24s
Date Produced
March 20 1985
Q: When you were out on tour in the United States, you used to send your laundry home to Indianapolis.
A: How weird! I don't remember that.
Q: You used to -- before you were married, of course -- you used to send it home.
A: Well, I certainly wonder why.
Q: Well, apparently, it was difficult to get it done on the road, and you would send it home, and they would send it back to you.
A: Well, that's an interesting item! Certainly very interesting.
Q: When you think of it, yes. There's a note that you enclosed to your mother about having bought something, and you said, "This will be a good thing for my trousseau, and it's just easier to buy things when you run into them than to go shopping all the time."
A: Yes. I think that's true. I never go shopping. If I see something, I get it if I think I'm going to use it. Or if I see a dress I like, I get it. I don't ever go shopping in that sense. I hate to shop.
Q: But you picked up interesting things in your travels. This house is just full of them. Did you always do that, buy interesting things -- the dolls, the fans . . . .
A: Yes. In the library, those are real Balinese dolls that I bought there. That's a puppet. One of them is a puppet. Yes. I bought things like that when I saw them, if I could carry them home. I was reading today, somebody gave me one of those Siamese headdresses -- they're tall you know, and perfectly beautiful. Somebody gave me one in Rangoon, and I carried it all around the world with me because I liked it so much. Brought it home. It's around here someplace. I don't know where. Probably over at the school. All my costumes now are over there. I don't have any costumes here.
Q: Were you consciously, as you were traveling, before you had begun to really do choreography, doing research on costumes and that kind of thing, making notes, or were you just soaking it all in?
A: I didn't make any notes, I don't think. I just was interested. I was interested in the way different countries danced. Each country has their own way of dancing, you know. It's awfully interesting, how different they are. That's really fascinating. The Japanese are so different from the Balinese; and the Balinese, Java's right next door to it, and they dance an entirely different way. Siam, they dance differently. I don't know much about the dances of India. I never studied dancing in India.
Q: Why not?
A: I don't know. I have no idea. I don't know. Just didn't.
Q: Just didn't?
A: Just didn't.
Q: What about Spanish dancing?
A: Oh, I love that! I studied that very seriously because Adolph Bolm sent me to a teacher in New York named Aurora Arriaza, and I was so grateful that he did send me to her because I like Spanish dancing. I used it a lot in the operas, you know, when I was at the operas. I've been in opera companies all my life. You need all those different kinds of dances that will fit into the operas.
Q: What is there about Spanish dancing? It's so demanding and so different, so specially demanding. Is it the castanets, or is it . . . ?
A: Well, I never played the castanets [sic]. Well, it's the way they stand and the positions of their bodies, and it has a character all its own. Well, all the national dances have character. The mazurka is very different from the polonaise. All the dances are different. But I just happen to like the Spanish ones the best. And all over Spain they're different; each province does a different kind of dance. I remember the Spanish gypsies when I [was there] -- where was it? I think it was in Rondes [Granada] or someplace, where they lived in caves at that time, and there wasn't even any floor. They just danced in the dirt in their bare feet, you know. I found that awfully interesting. Now, I understand, the caves have all got floors in them, and they wear heels, and it's much more comme il faut.
Q: So, as you were traveling, you were never consciously doing dance research; you were just looking at things that interested you -- dance, the most interesting thing?
A: Well, yes. When I was traveling, mostly, I was dancing myself.
Q: Of course.
A: I didn't have too much time. But whenever I could, I tried to see them all, dances, and tried to learn them.
Q: Yes. And then there was that wonderful 8-month trip back from Japan, where you really got to see so much.
A: Yes.
Q: When you went to Buenos Aires to dance in Coq d'Or, you also danced for the Prince of Wales.
A: Yes.
Q: Do you remember? What do you remember about that incident?
A: Well, it was an opera called Lorelei, I think. And I didn't dance until toward the very end, and I don't think the Prince of Wales was very interested in opera, so he came late, purposely, and they didn't start the opera until he came. So, the poor man -- I danced about 5 o'clock in the morning, I think it was -- and the poor Prince of Wales had to be polite, you know. So, I remember that, yes.
Q: And then you came back to Chicago, where the Chicago Allied Arts was really getting itself going, getting started.
A: Yes.
Q: However, you were by this time married to Tom, newly married. However, there wasn't much of a season that Chicago Allied Arts was doing, was it? I mean, it was just . . . .
A: No, I don't think so. It was rather, oh, we'd do a few performances here and there, all around.
Q: That must have made it difficult for you to live, because there really wasn't very much to do, very much income being generated by your dancing.
A: Well, it was enough. I didn't need much money.
Q: And Tom was still, at that point, working for his father's law firm?
A: I guess so, yes.
Q: And you were living, as a matter of fact, with Tom's father?
A: Yes, we were. Right. A very remarkable man. I learned a lot from him.
Q: What did you learn from him?
A: Well, I learned -- he'd sit in a room and have millions of people all around him, talking and carrying on and drinking, and he could completely concentrate on what he was doing. He never knew . . . . I thought that was very remarkable . . . .
Q: Now, in February of 1926, you first performed Peter Pan and the Butterfly at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago . . . . A role made for you . . . . We were talking about Peter Pan and the Butterfly. There are some wonderful pictures of you as Peter Pan.
A: Yes. I was Peter Pan. I was a very Peter Pan-ish character, I think. It was a cute little dance, very cute. It always got encored.
Q: What kind of dance was it? I mean, what can you remember about it, because it seems to me . . . .
A: Well, I came in with little pipes. [Sings] "De da dee da da . . . ." Oh, it was [a] simple little dance, but cute. And then I found this dead butterfly, and I was trying to make it fly. I don't remember what happened to the poor butterfly. I think he did fly away, finally [sic]. But it was a cute little dance. It was very charming, very youthful.
Q: And very Ruth Page.
A: Yes. I guess so.
Q: You danced it a lot.
A: Yes. Oh, all the time. Every place.
Q: And the costume was very sort of jaunty.
A: Yes. You've seen the pictures of the costume. Remisoff designed the costume.
Q: Yes.
A: It was a charming costume.
Q: And Remisoff was later to work with you a great deal.
A: Yes. I worked with Remisoff a lot. He came over here -- do you remember a thing called Balieff's Chauve Souris? Well, it was a very, very successful sort of show. And Balieff was a real character. I don't know how to describe him. I can sort of vaguely remember it. And Remisoff came. He was the artist for the company. That's where I first knew him. And he was a great friend of Adolph Bolm, too. I met him through Adolph Bolm. Then, unfortunately, Remisoff got a job -- or, fortunately for him -- in Hollywood, doing films. So, every time I wanted costumes, I'd go out to Hollywood and get them. He lived in Palm Springs, I remember, and I enjoyed going out there. He was a very interesting man. Very great artist, I think.
Q: Yes. Now, you've been fortunate to work with a number of very great artists in the course of your career.
A: Yes.
Q: Noguchi.
A: Yes.
Q: Clavé.
A: Clavé, yes.
Q: [Videographer] Noguchi?
A: Yes, I worked with him a lot.
Q: Yes, Noguchi.
Q: [Videographer] Isamu Noguchi?
A: Yes. Do you know him?
Q: [Videographer] Terrific artist.
Q: [To videographer] I love it. You really got involved! Yes, indeed. He designed a number of things for Ruth . . . . [To Ruth Page] I wanted to ask you. I cannot find any pictures of the famous "sacks and sticks" costumes. Where are they? I mean the wonderful Noguchi sack that he designed?
A: Well, they're right in the living room. Those are . . . .
Q: Well, I know the drawings, but I mean . . . .
A: Oh, pictures?
Q: Photographs.
A: Oh, I'll give you some. I've got some in the other room.
Q: They were wonderful costumes. They must have been.
A: Yes. Yes. They were jersey sacks. You got inside of them. You could do anything you wanted to. I don't know. I have lots of pictures if you want to see them.
Q: Yes. We will, when we get to it. He's an enormously talented man. Okay. This is an interesting thing. I mean, a cameraman should never . . . . He never does that. That's how involved he's gotten listening to you. Never speaks up. No.
     Okay. Well, now. It's 1926. There you were in Chicago. It was summer and the Ravinia Opera came to you, I think at Adolph Bolm's suggestion, and asked you to become their ballet director and premiere danseuse. Right?
A: I don't know whether it was Bolm's idea or whose it was, but they offered me the job.
Q: Well, how do you remember it, Ruth? Maybe it's wrong in these books.
A: Well, Mr. Eckstein, Louis Eckstein, was running it, and he was looking for somebody to do the ballets there. And I don't know how he found me. I have no idea. But I was awfully glad to have that job because that's where I learned all about opera. I was there until he died [sic]. And they had marvelous opera there, you know -- Lucrezia Bori and Martinelli and Johnson, Edward Johnson, and all the great singers. They'd come out here and spend the summer, take big houses and spend the summer. They did all the classic operas, and they did also sort of novelties. They did Rondine and Marouf and Amor Brujo. And I think it was an extraordinary company. The more I think of it, the more extraordinary I think it was. And then when he died, everything changed there. There was a charming little theatre there. Now it's an awful-looking thing. There was a charming small theatre, and we all loved performing there, loved spending the summer at Ravinia. All of us used to take houses out there, and we lived there all the time and worked very hard.
Q: This was, I believe, 6 years, actually, 6 seasons, that you were the ballet director . . . .
A: I thought it was 7 years, but maybe -- 6 or 7, it doesn't matter. Until he died.
Q: Until he died. Now at the time at which they came to you in 1926, I mean, it's hardly necessary to point this out, you were 26 years old, and you had never really choreographed anything other than dances for yourself, which you had been doing since you were born, practically, all your life.
A: Yes, that's true. They took a big chance on me. They really did take a chance. They came out. It was fun.
Q: You weren't frightened?
A: No . . . . I knew I could do it. It's a special thing. Opera's a very special thing. I've always liked opera. I liked to choreograph for operas. Most choreographers don't.
Q: I know. I know. And it is indeed one of your strengths. The first season, this was your first opportunity to really use other people's bodies as well as your own, to choreograph for other dancers. I'm saying it clumsily. Was that difficult for you to make a change doing that?
A: Oh, no. It seemed perfectly natural.
Q: Worrying about scenery and costumes?
A: Well, I think they rented all the scenery from the Metropolitan in New York, if I'm not mistaken. I don't really know. I never paid too much attention to the scenery, frankly.
Q: The costumes, I gather, were none too special, and you wrote your mother and you said to her, "Mother, will you help me, and will you make some costumes for me?" Because you were, of course, the lead dancer.
A: Yes. I never liked the costumes that the Opera gave you. Of course, you should have to wear the ones they give you. It should fit into the opera. But I didn't. I think you should have to.
Q: Of course.
A: Of course, is right.
Q: That very first season, you did a great many operas. The first one they have listed here is Carmen. You did Carmen, Aida, Faust, Samson and Delilah, Traviata . . . .
A: Really?
Q: Yes.
A: You see what an interesting repertoire they had? Don't you think that's extraordinary?
Q: Yes.
A: Nobody does that now. The Lyric does 6 operas a year, I believe . . . 6 or 7.
Q: How did you approach it, Ruth? How much rehearsal time did you get with the dancers? What was it like?
A: I got all the time I wanted. They were paid by the week. So I could rehearse whenever I wanted to.
Q: And the directors with whom you worked, who were directing the operas . . . ?
A: They were very cooperative. I forgot who there was -- Desfrères, I think, was one of them. Isn't that funny, I can't remember who the directors were. But they were all very cooperative. You discussed it with whomever was directing it, and then you did what he wanted, and if he didn't like it, he'd tell you, and if I didn't like it, I'd tell him. And we got together all right on it.
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