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Patricia McBride No. 05 [April 15, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0609
Run Time
0h 17m 29s
Date Produced
April 15 1987
Q: Starting out, tell me about the first time you met Ruth Page?
A: I can't even remember how many years ago. It was probably in the early '70s. I was invited to dance her Nutcracker there. I went and had a great time. I went with my husband Jean-Pierre Bonnefous, and we brought our Balanchine version of the pas de deux and we did her opening. I remember I shared a dressing room with Ruth, and it was a terrific experience. I mean, it was so much fun. She would come in and she wore the most outrageous clothes. I mean, it was always a thrill to see what she would be wearing next and what she would be doing. I remember she had a sort of . . . I think it was purple tights and a yellow skirt that was sort of slit all the way up her leg, and I thought that is just great! She's really ahead of her time. She did barre every day. She'd come and work out and do her barre. I remember that she said, "Oh, your husband is so handsome. I just think he's just such a handsome man." It was a happy experience working with her.
Q: What had you heard about her before you met her?
A: I hadn't really heard too much because her company. . . . I knew her, of course. I think I had met her casually just to meet and say hello, but I think I knew her most through a dear friend of mine, Andy Wentink, who knew her very well. He was a great admirer of hers, and we had talked about how incredible she was. I mean, she is an incredible woman. She's fun to be around.
Q: When you say she's an incredible woman, and she is fun to be around . . . . There's a wonderful story that she tells about going and looking at the people on the nude beaches in St. Tropez and saying, "Oh, they look perfectly awful." Then she said she looked over and here was this group of beautiful boys, and so naturally she said, "I went over there and there they were." They began to say, "Hello, Ruth. How are you?" and she realized that it was the boys from the Royal Ballet.
A: She's terrific.
Q: You started to say before that you really admire her.      
A: Oh, I do. Because I think that in her day . . . first of all, to be a woman choreographer, it must not have been easy. She just persevered and did what she wanted. I think she did great work with the ballets that she brought . . .
ballets that nobody was doing, like the opera ballets, and bringing them to life, story ballets, and she loved them. It really was good work, and she'd work with so many terrific people.
     I remember I once breezed through Chicago and stopped at the Opera and saw Harald Kreutzberg doing . . . I guess it was Carmina Burana at that time. I went back and saw Ruth. It's always kind of exciting to be around Ruth because she's just very vivacious, interested, and interesting. You always know that it's going to be lots of surprises and good things in store.
Q: What was it like working on the Merry Widow?
A: Well, it was hard for me, because I got a call from Ruth asking me to do it. I said, "Ruth, I just can't because I haven't danced," and I had just had my baby. I really didn't want to dance. I said that I was really in terrible shape, and she sort of got me to do it. It was a wonderful experience. She said that Larry Long would teach us. It would be all of the New York City Ballet dancers. My partner would be Peter Martins. I was a little dubious about doing it, because I felt that I wasn't that ready. I felt overweight and was nervous about dancing again after taking a year off. She made me feel wonderful. She made me feel like I could do it, and don't worry about it. I think when I did do the Nutcracker for her, she always made me feel wonderful. She made me feel special as a dancer. I felt appreciated and wanted to do it for her. And the experience of doing Merry Widow, I was really looking forward to. It's such a glamorous role and the music's wonderful. She sent me a tape that I could look at and see if I wanted to do it. I looked at it and loved it, and we did it in really a short amount of time. We had two weeks of rehearsing in New York. Actually, it was ten days, and then flew to Chicago and filmed it. I was very nervous, but she was there and she was very supportive.
Q: What kind of things does she say to give you a supportive feeling, like, for example?
A: Well, she just seemed pleased at what she was seeing, and that gives a lot of confidence to you when you feel like you're not quite up to it. I kept saying that I'm really not in that great shape, and she just said that it looks fine and good.
Q: There are a lot of people who do say that George Balanchine is one tradition -- indeed, almost his own genre, certainly his own; that Ruth Page's is an entirely different kind of choreography. Can you talk about the differences between -- after all, you're a Balanchine ballerina -- the differences between the two?
A: I grew up as a Balanchine dancer. You can't compare the differences. You can't compare a Balanchine to a Ruth Page. There's no way that you could compare them. Ruth was doing something different, in a totally different vein than Mr. Balanchine was. Of course, I felt right at home having ballets choreographed for me by this great genius. You go to something like the Merry Widow; [and it] was so much fun, to have a story ballet, with being a character. It was very appealing and something that I really loved: wearing beautiful costumes and having a full work, a full evening of dance there. There's no way you could compare the two, because, choreographically, they're worlds apart. I think Ruth thought so much of Mr. Balanchine, and I think he probably really liked Ruth.
Q: Did he ever say anything to you about Ruth?
A: No.
Q: When you went to dance in Merry Widow, you knew that there were a lot of really quite famous ballerinas who had danced it before you. You knew that you were dancing it for television and this was going to be the performance. Does that ever bother you when you're dancing a role that you know a lot of other dancers did?
A: No, I don't think so. Now that you mention it, I hadn't even thought about it. It didn't even enter my mind. Because I knew that what I would bring would be something different. I just think that I took the joy of dancing those steps with that music. I have always loved to waltz. I wish I could do Merry Widow again. I'd love to do it on stage. I'd love to do a real performance of it in a real theater. It would be great. But I really hadn't thought about that, or other roles either. I think that when I was young, I did -- when I was first starting out as a dancer. I was so imbued with the beauty of those great ballerinas, the Balanchine ballerinas, who did the roles that I later danced. They left such a vivid impression on my being that I was, of course, intimidated by the ballerinas. But because I hadn't really ever seen the Merry Widow done by anyone, so I had nothing to be concerned about.
Q: When you looked at the performance afterward, when you saw the video tape, what new thing, if anything, did you see about Patricia McBride as you looked at yourself in that role? Was there anything new that you saw or what struck you about it?
A: I don't know. I remember the first day. It was a disaster. I felt that I did my worst. It was the first dance, the "red dance" with the boys, and I was very depressed that evening because I thought . . . . It's so hard, first of all, to start filming when you don't have an audience there. I felt a little silly. I didn't feel like I was really into it, and I think it took a while to really get into it. The more days that went by, the more I felt really with it, but it just took a long time. As far as seeing it, I liked what I saw. I think it came off really very well. I loved seeing those beautiful costumes and especially loved that last dance in the white gown with the black hat. I don't often see myself looking that way, in beautiful costumes. We don't wear that many costumes in New York City Ballet, and it was a very sumptuous performance; you know, the sets . . . . It was a very nice experience of working, and all of the dancers from City Ballet were there, so it was a very comfortable experience. Becky Wright and George [de la Pena] too were there, and it was very nice to see them dancing. Larry [Long] went in at the last minute and did his original role [sic], and Warren [Conover] did that also. It was a very nice experience.
Q: Tell me a little bit about visiting in St. Tropez and what it was like?
A: My husband being French, we were visiting where his family was and in the south of France. Ruth said, "If you're ever near, please come down and visit." So we took her up on her invitation and went. Her friend, John Taras, was there and who's a good friend of ours. We went to her house and it was wonderful. She said that it was on the street that Brigitte Bardot lived, and she had a wonderful, wonderful house with old memories. She's a collector and has many things that she's collected over the years. We had a wonderful time. She took us to the beach. It was just before Jean-Pierre and I got married, and we just had a wonderful time. We always have a good time with Ruth wherever we go. She knows how to entertain and make people feel at ease and having a good time.
Q: People say that all of the time and certainly I know her well and know that it's true. What is that quality about her that you find most inviting?
A: I think down deep you trust her, because you know what she says is honest and from her own point of view. If she says she likes something, she really likes it. She has a youthfulness about her, and she's not stuffy. She's kind of a free spirit. I feel that she's always kind of done what she wanted -- even though nothing is easy. And probably wasn't easy for her, you know, being a woman and choreographing and the strains of having your own company and being very responsible. It's a very difficult thing to do.
Q: She has a whole lot of gumption and spirit and "stick-to-it-iveness" that I think has probably enabled her to triumph over a great many things. When you think about Ruth, what's the first thing about her that comes to your mind?
A: Well, she's a real character. I mean a lovable, dear, fun person. I think I admire her because she has such a love of dance. She likes it. She's only there because she's doing what she loves to do and needs to release all of those creative things. She has a mind that's busy, that's full of ideas, and she did all of these wonderful ballets because she had to.
     She entertained at the same time and giving dancers a place to work. She did a really great thing for Chicago all of those years; they really didn't have a company. If it hadn't been for Ruth Page, where would the dancers have been? And she was sort of like a mother figure, who was kind of half-mother and also boss and choreographer. But I think she always had warmth. She's a very warm and loving person. She had a great desire to choreograph and stuck to it, and it was wonderful.
Related Place
New York (production location of)