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Ruth Page No. 11 [March 20, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0553
Run Time
0h 19m 30s
Date Produced
March 20 1985
Q: We're still talking about the Ravinia operas. Wasn't it a great deal of choreography, Ruth? It looks as though you would do 7 or 8 operas a season, plus the children's matinees. I mean, that's really rather a lot.
A: Yes. It was a lot.
Q: You must have been very busy.
A: I was, and I enjoyed it.
Q: A morning 'til night kind of thing.
A: Yes.
Q: What was your life like at that time? The house was filled with dancers? Did you live in the house in Winnetka, in Hubbard Woods?
A: No. We didn't have the house in Winnetka yet. We just rented a house in Ravinia.
Q: And Tom would be there, would come out. And was Tom in any way yet involved at this period in your life, in organizing contracts or things like that? Or, not yet?
A: No.
Q: Not until you really had your own company . . . . In 1928, when you went to Japan . . . .
A: Yes.
Q: Now, it's obvious that it was very important to you to go. You've said that before.
A: Yes.
Q: Is there something you can put your finger on that was important about Japan to you?
A: Well, I liked all countries. I was interested in every country. I wanted to go everyplace.
Q: And so, Japan was an exciting opportunity. There was nothing special about the Orient?
A: Well. . . Japanese art always appealed to me, Japanese prints, you know. And I like the Japanese theatre. I don't know, Japan was always a beautiful country. That Inland Sea is so lovely and, at the time, Tokyo was a very interesting place.
Q: You danced, I think, 25 performances in Tokyo.
A: Yes.
Q: And some of your dances were very American.
A: American?
Q: Yes. What do you remember about a dance called the Shadow of Death, which you premiered there?
A: Oh, I think it was by Moussorgsky, wasn't it . . . ? Moussorgsky. Well, that was sort of a serious dance. I don't know. I can't remember it very well. I didn't do it very much.
Q: There's not very much information about any of these dances that I've been able to find anywhere. How about something called Diana?
A: I did all kinds of Dianas. I did a Hindemith one -- by Hindemith. What other Dianas did I do? The subject of Diana always is fascinating, so I did them. I did a Diana with a bow and arrow, I think. Yes. A Hindemith. Now, who were the other composers I used for Diana? I can't remember. But it was, Diana was always . . . .
Q: The huntress, from mythology. Always interesting.
A: Yes, yes. Yes.
Q: Kind of glamorous, exciting . . . .
A: Yes, yes.
Q: Something called the American Indian Eagle Dance was also premiered in Tokyo.
A: Oh, well, that was the American [Indian] Eagle Dance. Have you ever seen it?
Q: No.
A: Oh, it's a marvelous dance. It's real Indian, and I just learned it and did it as close to the way they did it as I could.
Q: Something called Ballet Scaffolding.
A: That's the picture on the cover of that book. And it wasn't much of a dance, but it was a terribly interesting costume.
Q: That's the fantastic costume.
A: That's right.
Q: Right. Another one you made.
A: And the dancer couldn't do much in that costume, but it was sort of, well, it was a scaffolding, you know; a basic ballet, sort of the basics of ballet.
Q: What on earth. I'm sure you remember the costume and I do, too. But here we go. I mean, Ruth, you could barely move in a thing like that.
A: No. I moved very easily in it.
Q: You could? Even with the . . . ?
A: Yes . . . . There's nothing difficult about that costume. But it had to be stylized. It was something very stylized, of course. I think it was a very interesting dance.
Q: Yes. Prokofiev.
A: Prokofiev, yes. I was just going to say Prokofiev.
Q: Now, you did the choreography for all of those dances?
A: Yes.
Q: You must have had to put it together in quite a hurry. Your partner for this was Edwin Strawbridge.
A: Yes.
Q: How did you put it together, because there wasn't, I shouldn't have thought, a great deal of time. The Ravinia season ended in August of 1928, and you sailed on September 5th.
A: Oh, I had been preparing for it for a long time before that.
Q: You had been, before the summer?
A: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And they were the dances that I'd always been doing [sic]. They weren't composed especially to go to Japan with.
Q: Hmmm. Strawbridge and the rest of the people in the company were the people you'd danced with before? They weren't part, certainly, of the Adolph Bolm troupe at all?
A: No.
Q: They had been dancing with you at Ravinia?
A: I can't remember. Maybe they did. I don't know if they did or not. There were two girls. I can't think of their names, even. But he was nothing special.
Q: Strawbridge?
A: Yes. He was all right, but nothing special.
Q: I noticed you never worked with him, I don't think, very much. Well, you know, in 1929 you danced with him again, but I guess that was all. He was not a particularly strong or good partner?
A: He was all right, you know. Nothing special.
Q: As a choreographer, he didn't do any of that?
A: No [sic].
Q: It was all yours?
A: Yes [sic].
Q: Now, in some ways, it would seem that very quickly in terms of choreography, you had perhaps outstripped Adolph Bolm as a choreographer. What is your . . . I mean, he did choreography, Bolm did?
A: Oh, yes.
Q: What was the nature of his choreography?
A: Oh, I think The Birthday of the Infanta was the best, biggest thing he ever did. He did that here in Chicago. That's what brought me to Chicago. It was in 1919 . . . . And he was The Dwarf who was in love with The Infanta. And John Alden Carpenter wrote the music. He was a Chicago composer. And we did it, it must have been at the Auditorium, I guess. It doesn't matter. Anyway, either there or at the Opera [sic] . . . .
Q: We'll get it.
A: I think it was probably at the Auditorium. Oh, no. Maybe it was at Orchestra Hall. I don't remember.
Q: I don't know. It was for the Chicago Grand Opera Company. I don't have the note right here, but we'll find out . . . . Anyway, he also choreographed for the Ballet Intime.
A: Oh, yes. He did all kinds of small ballets, big ones. He did lots of choreography.
Q: How do you contrast his choreography with your own?
A: I don't know. Mine was nothing like his at all.
Q: His was, it seems, from descriptions I've read of it, not terribly inventive or original.
A: I don't know. I really was his pupil, you know. I looked up to him a great deal and thought everything he did was wonderful. But the one I thought was the best was certainly The Birthday of the Infanta. That was the biggest and the . . . . I don't know where he got the money to do it. I have no idea. But it must have been very expensive. Maybe John Alden Carpenter got the money for him. I don't know. He [Carpenter] was a very important man here. His wife was a very attractive person. They were very, very well-known here in Chicago when I first came.
Q: He was a good partner, a good teacher, in some ways, but his choreography you would say really did not influence you one way or another; that you felt, well, you wanted to do different things . . . .
A: No. He didn't influence me at all.
Q: Do you feel that by the time you went to Japan that in some ways you were ready for growth, for a change; that you had outgrown this Bolm period?
A: Yes. Yes. You know, like everybody outgrows their parents. He was sort of like a father figure to me. And so, of course, I wanted to break away.
Q: And you did.
A: And I did.
Q: And then there was that wonderful, long trip back "via ports," the 8-month trip back.
A: Yes. I can't believe it was that long, but maybe it was . . . . Well, it doesn't matter.
Q: Well, it was that long. It was from November . . . I guess it's 8 months if you count October to April; if you counted the whole month of October you were dancing [in Japan] . . . . And you came back in April, 1929; back to do Oak Street Beach.
A: Yes.
Q: For the Children's Matinee, you did it.
A: I was at Ravinia, I guess.
Q: Yes. Now, what can you remember about Oak Street Beach as a ballet?
A: Well, I remember mainly from the pictures in that book [Page by Page], you know. It took place on a beach, and we were all dressed in sort of various amusing things. It was a little comedy. Then the interesting part about it to me was the skyscrapers were right there on the beach, practically. And people weren't used to seeing realistic movement in ballets then. And it was just exactly, oh, it wasn't exactly like what people do on the beach, it was based on what people really do on the beach, you know, sunning themselves and dancing; there's a lot more dancing in it, of course, than there is on the beach. But that's what it was like.
Q: Real movement. How is it similar, if it was in any way, to The Flapper and the Quarterback?
A: It was very much the same thing. They did it about the same time.
Q: Yes. The Flapper and the Quarterback was in 19 . . .
A: '26.
Q: . . . '26. This was in '29. The Flapper and the Quarterback was actually the first -- there are a lot of "firsts" in your life, Ruth -- the first Americana ballet by an American choreographer.
A: I guess so. I think it was. Yes.
Q: And so Oak Street Beach was similar, in that it was realistic movement.
A: That's right.
Q: And seemed like real people.
A: Yes.
Q: And what role did you dance? Were you one of the girls on the beach?
A: I don't remember dancing in it at all.
Q: Oh, maybe you didn't.
A: Maybe I didn't. I don't remember dancing in it.
Q: That same year, 1929, that same summer at Ravinia, you also did a ballet which I bet you did dance, called The Flapper Goes Oriental.
A: Oh, yes. That wasn't very good.
Q: Wasn't it?
A: No. The Flapper -- you know who The Flapper is . . .
Q: Sure.
A: . . . Well, The Flapper was trying to do Oriental dances, and it was supposed to be a comedy, but it wasn't very good, I don't think. I didn't do it very much. It wasn't very good, I didn't think.
Q: It was, to any degree, sort of a reflection on your trip to the Orient -- you as sort of a flapper having gone Oriental, sort of . . .
A: Yes, it was.
Q: . . . an autobiographical ballet, as it were.
A: Yes.
Q: At the same time, you also did a ballet called Japanese Print.
A: Yes. That dance I learned in Japan, and I had this beautiful kimono made. It's all in black and white, and I bought a Japanese black wig, and it was copied exactly, as close as I could get it, to the Japanese, their own dances. So there wasn't any great creation on my part. It was just trying to be, to do something Japanese.
Q: Yes, but certainly it was new, wasn't it? I read in something that you wrote one time that most of what passed in this country for Oriental dancing was American ideas of what Oriental dancing would be like. It was nothing like real Oriental dancing. So that was new, to some degree.
A: Well, maybe. I didn't do it very much. It was pictorially interesting, danced against a gold screen, and it was on a platform, so that you could hear the beats on the hollow floor.
Q: Oh.
A: Yes. And I used little musical instruments that I beat together. So it was pretty. Yes.
Q: And then later in the fall of that year, for the Chicago Woman's Club, you first performed a ballet you did called Two Balinese Rhapsodies.
A: Yes. That was the pleasure dance and the religious dance.
Q: Oh. Those were really, those were the dances, and those were, again, authentic?
A: Yes.
Q: Now, how were they received by the audiences?
A: Well, I think they were interested. The costumes were beautiful and they hadn't seen anything like that before, so they were very interested. It wasn't anything wildly creative on my part. It was just copying what I saw in Bali.
Q: That Balinese dancing, from the descriptions of it that I read, the Balinese dancing that you saw when you were there, was extremely stylized.
A: Oh, very.
Q: Difficult to teach.
A: Yes. Very difficult and hard steps and very fast and all kinds of bends and twists. They were fascinating dances.
Q: How did you manage to . . . . Did you teach them to other dancers, those dances that you learned in Bali?
A: They were mostly solo dances that I did.
Q: What did you do about the music?
A: I brought the music home with me. I got tapings made of it.
Q: Oh, so you played the tape of the music . . . ?
A: And Louis Horst was very good at taking native music and making, playing it for the piano, you know.
Q: Oh . . . I'm not sure, but I know that you had a very long and good association with Louis Horst, and that was about the time that it began.
A: Yes. I think so. Yes, I think it was.
Q: The Balinese dances must have been very difficult for you to do, Ruth. They're so, I mean . . . . What are they actually like? It seems like finger movements are so disciplined.
A: Well, the finger movements -- they do all kinds of things. Well, like that [demonstrates], with the fingers, holding and then wiggle these . . . . And they do that [demonstrates], and all kinds, lots of finger movements. They're fascinating, their hand movements, I thought.
Q: And then there's one dance, I don't think it's either of these, but there's one religious dance that they do with a fan, sitting down, so that the dancer's movements are all . . . .
A: Oh, well, they use the fan in sort of a funny position with their elbows bent way up and fluttering it all the time. They use the fan a lot. It seems to be part of their dances. They use them a great deal. Then there was one man, Mario. He went to Paris, so people knew what it was like in Paris. This Mario was a great dancer. He danced with his legs crossed over underneath him and never got out of that position, and he bounced all over the floor and . . . the instruments were all in front of him, and he'd hit the instruments, and his head would go and . . . it was a fascinating dance. Difficult.
Q: Oh, yes.
A: Yes. I've never seen anybody do anything like it. But he did go to Paris, I know that. And he became very popular there.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)