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Ruth Page No. 12 [March 20, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0554
Run Time
0h 19m 17s
Date Produced
March 20 1985
Q: Now . . . you do a barre every single day. Go to class every day.
A: I try to, yes.
Q: Every weekday?
A: What?
Q: Every weekday, or Saturdays and Sundays, too?
A: Well, not Sunday. They don't have a class on Sunday.
Q: But you go on Saturday?
A: Yes.
Q: I think you're great.
A: I like it. I like it.
Q: And you've always had, haven't you, a room set up in your house that was a practice room for you; most of the places that you've lived?
A: Well, I had a place for my barre, yes.
Q: Yes. Here and in the house in Hubbard Woods.
A: Yes. We had a whole real studio there, because it was an old garage that just happened to be on the property. And so we made it into a studio. It had two rooms upstairs -- three rooms upstairs, a bathroom, and the whole downstairs, we made into a studio. We had a nice studio there.
Q: And in St. Tropez? 
A: Yes . . . . It wasn't in the house. We rented a big room that just happened to be nearby. And so we had a nice studio there.
Q: I think even when you first married Tom and moved into his father's house for a while . . .
A: Yes. We made the living room into a studio.
Q: His living room?
A: Yes. His father didn't seem to object, so . . . .
Q: You moved a barre in, and a mirror?
A: We didn't have a mirror. Just a barre. Just an open space, you know. You have to have a space to dance in.
Q: Yes. He didn't mind?
A: No.
Q: I think that's fine. I think that's great.
A: Yes. He was wonderful.
Q: We were talking about the Balinese dances, really the Japanese and the Oriental dances, and the influence that they had on you right after you came back from your trip to Japan. Even before you went there, Ruth, it does seem that there was a lot of dances with Oriental themes; I mean there's lots of pictures of you in Oriental costumes . . . .
A: Yes. I was always interested in the Orient. Yes, that's true.
Q: In what ways did your style of dancing, interpreting Oriental dancing, change after you'd been to the Orient?
A: I don't think it changed.
Q: Yes.
A: No. I just was more intellectual about it. I knew what they were really doing; before I just tried to imagine, looked at pictures, you know, all the time, and art. Like, well, in Egypt, you see pictures of dancers all over Egypt . . . . And Ankor Wat, also. There are all statues of the Buddhas, and if you look at books -- there's a man called Coomeraswamy who was married to a dancer, and he wrote a book about Indian dancing, and the pictures in it are marvelous. There has been lots, so much written on Oriental dancing and Japanese, Chinese, Balinese, Siamese, Indian. Everything has been done.
Q: You can tell a lot, too, can't you, just by looking at a picture?
A: Oh, of course. [You can] tell everything by looking at a picture.
Q: When you look at a picture, say when you were at Ankor Wat, when you look at . . . .
A: The statues there?
Q: What do you see? What does it tell you about the movement?
A: Well, they are all pictures of Buddhas, how they sat, the expressions, the face, you know. All of those things are very, very revealing. A whole different civilization from ours.
Q: Do you think that you could get a sense of the way they move from looking at still photographs or statues?
A: Yes, of course. Don't you think so?
Q: I think you can. Do you think everybody can?
A: Well, I don't know what everybody's like. I can.
Q: It's clear you can. But I think it's . . . I guess it's . . . . What I'm saying, is that I think it's a special gift to be able to see that, and it seems as though you were on this trip, and on subsequent trips, a very, very, very close observer of movement and attitude of the body. You watched it every place you could, I would guess, whether you were walking down the street, or you were visiting the museum, or watching it at a formal dance. Is that right? Is that true?
A: Yes.
Q: What about what you saw in Egypt, you know, the poses? Very rigid.
A: Stylized, yes.
Q: Yes. Did these make their way into any of your dances at all?
A: No.
Q: Did they help you at all with the opera?
A: No. Because you can't do those . . . I don't think that's the way they moved. I think that's the way the artist interpreted the movement.
Q: Right. Yes. You can't really do this and that at the same time.
A: Well, you can. It's very interesting. Nijinsky did it in L'Apres-midi d'un Faune.
Q: Sideways and forward at the same time?
A: Yes, frieze-like.
Q: Yes.
A: It was a very short ballet and it's a beautiful ballet, actually. It's very creative.
Q: Oh, indeed. Very famously creative. Sensational -- [it] caused quite a sensation.
A: Yes, it was.
Q: You never met Nijinsky? He was by that time . . . .
A: No, I never saw him. He was gone.
Q: Yes. In 1929, you also, at the Guild Theatre in New York City, performed something called Sentimental Melody, in a joint recital with Edwin Strawbridge, to the music of Aaron Copland.
A: What was it called?
Q: Sentimental Melody.
A: I don't remember that at all. I gave Aaron Copland his first job writing a ballet. It was called Hear Ye! Hear Ye!. I don't remember the Sentimental Journey [sic] at all. Copland. Yes. I gave him his first chance to write a ballet. He's a very interesting composer.
Q: Yes, for Hear Ye! Hear Ye!, which we'll talk about later.
A: Yes.
Q: There was also something, on the same program with the Balinese Rhapsody, was something called Gershwiniana, Prelude No. 1. What was that?
A: Well, those were the Gershwin preludes, and I called it Gershwiniana, because there were three or four of them, different ones, and I danced them. So, I just gave them a general title.
Q: You were changing the titles of your ballets. You would do that?
A: Yes.
Q: What was the look of those Gershwin ballets? Or is there something, I know you can't remember the steps, but . . . .
A: Well, there are pictures of them. You can see them, in white, a little white short dress with black; a pleated skirt, white pleated skirt, and heels. And they were very bluesy, as I told you.
Q: Yes. And did you ever get a sense from anybody, or were people in Chicago at that time sophisticated enough so that they were accepting on the same program two Balinese, authentic Balinese, dances, and, you know, Gershwin ballets?
A: I never did them here.
Q: [You did them at the] Chicago Women's Club, actually, you did them together on the same program in 1929.
A: Oh, I did?
Q: I mean, I guess you wouldn't have done them if . . . , I mean, do you remember all the audience having a problem and saying, "Well, that's not really dance"?
A: No. I don't remember.
Q: On the whole, you always tried a lot of new things, a lot of different things, other than, say, the part of Frankie and Johnny in Paris, which was a separate issue, because it was Paris, after all, and the time that it could have happened. But did you have the sense, as you tried these new things, and you were always trying something new, that you were pushing against the tide? That you were encountering resistance in terms of what you were doing? The audiences weren't ready to see it?
A: Oh, I never paid any attention to the audience. If they accepted it, all right. If they didn't, all right. I wasn't going to cramp my style just because of the audience!
Q: Certainly not. What about the critics? Did you care what they said much?
A: Oh, no. I never had any trouble with the critics. They always came along with me. We got marvelous critiques, as you can see.
Q: Oh, yes. I know. By and large, they had a pretty clear understanding of what you were doing?
A: Yes. I think they were happy to have somebody who would create new things all the time.
Q: Seems as though, too, you sort of never stood still with the new things. It's as though you did one new thing after another, after another, after another. Or is that just the way it looks now?
A: No. It was that way.
Q: Now, why do you suppose that you never had the kind of creative dry spells that other people do? Did you ever make yourself a series of goals, Ruth, where you said, well in terms of the things you were going to create, write them down on a list? Or did you just always keep moving forward?
A: Just kept moving. I never made lists.
Q: It's an enormous amount of work that you've done, truly enormous. Agnes de Mille was one of your dancers in Ravinia. Is that right?
A: Yes. She just came. She kept writing that she wanted a place to dance, she had no place to dance. I have the letter now, a long, long letter describing all her dances and couldn't she do them someplace with me? So I let her do them out at Ravinia in those children's programs.
Q: What did you think of her? I mean, did you like her? Did you like her dances? What did you think?
A: They were interesting, yes.
Q: How were her dances received by the children? They liked them?
A: Oh, I don't remember. I have no idea. She didn't do that many. I'm trying to remember what she did do. I'd have to see the programs. I can't remember.
Q: It was for only one season, I think, that she came.
A: Yes.
Q: I think you were quite gracious to let her share the spotlight with you. Didn't it bother you to have . . . .
A: No. I was glad to . . . .
Q: . . . help her out?
A: Sure.
Q: You did a rather major 1931 children's matinee -- Cinderella.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: Tell, us about that . . . . What was the music? Did you use the music from Cenerentola, or... ?
A: No, no. It was written by Marcel Delannoy, I think. It was written specially for that.
Q: Oh. It had specially commissioned music.
A: Yes. And it was an hour long, if I remember correctly. I'm not too sure. There was
a very nice picture of me in the Ravinia Park, looking in the . . . . Have you seen the picture?
Q: I don't know.
A: It's in the Cinderella costume, with my reflection in the pool.
Q: No, I haven't seen the picture. I'd remember it, I'm sure.
A: You haven't seen it? It's a lovely picture. It's a marvelous picture, and that shows what the costume was like. I can't remember too much about the ballet. I was sort of ashamed to do something as classical as that at that time, because it wasn't the thing to do. I just did it for the children.
Q: It wasn't the thing to do?
A: No. Not to be classical at the time.
Q: Classical was out.
A: Out. That's right.
Q: Is it true that there was very little classical ballet going on, touring in the country at all, do you think? Do you know? Or was it for you, that classical was out, you'd kind of outgrown it?
A: I don't think there was much classical ballet going on around the country. I really don't. I may be wrong. I can't remember that far back.
Q: And the new wave, really, the new wave of what we now call American dance, was just really beginning then.
A: Yes. [Aside] Do you think we have to have that light on, if we're not . . . . You're not recording anything, are you?
Q: Of course we are.
A: Oh, you are! I didn't know that. I had no idea you were recording!
Q: Oh, yes!
A: Because I wasn't paying too much attention.
Q: Oh, Ruth!
A: I was wondering why you were asking me so many impertinent questions!
Q: Oh, Ruth, I'm sorry. No, we were recording . . . .
A: I remember the Cinderella ballet, though. But I did it for the children's concerts out in Ravinia, because I thought Cinderella was something they were interested in, naturally. But I never did it, except for the children.
Q: Yes. Also, you did some really unusual things for the children. The season before that, in 1930, you did something called Three Russian Tea Cosies.
A: Oh, yes. That was kind of fun for the children. You know, they wore these great big skirts. . . like you put over a teapot. I'd forgotten all about that dance.
Q: Yes. And the music was Stravinsky.
A: Yes.
Q: And you also did something called Figure Eight. What was that?
A: I don't know. I don't remember that at all. Figure Eight?
Q: Yes.
A: I don't remember that at all.
Q: Sounds like skating or something.
A: Could have been. I did a few skating dances among other things. Figure Eight. Now, I really don't remember that at all. I haven't any pictures of it or anything.
Q: And Bolero. You danced that again, with Blake Scott.
A: Yes.
Q: Who was a partner, who was a part of the opera company, the Ravinia Opera for a long time? Or just for that season? Or was he just . . . ?
A: He danced with me off and on. I can't remember whether he was engaged for the season or not, but he probably was at that time. He wasn't much of a dancer. He was very good in certain things, like The Story of the Soldier of Stravinsky.
Q: L'Histoire du Soldat.
A: Yes. He was Prince Charming [in Cinderella]. He was good-looking, and he was a good partner.
Q: Yes. What makes a partner a "good partner"? What's a good partner?
A: Oh, dear! Let me see. How could you say what's a good partner? Somebody who's very attentive to you, who can feel your balance here, there, and dance with you and not call too much attention to himself! Ballerinas should be the "whole cheese," really. But, like Youskevitch and Alonso. He was a great partner and a great dancer, and he didn't interfere with her at all. She was a great dancer, too. And the two of them together made a wonderful partnership. Pavlova and Mordkin. I didn't see them together, but my mother said they were absolutely sensational. In fact, I think he was too good for her. She liked to be the whole thing. And she had Volinine. He was very good-looking, and he was a good partner. He had a school in Paris after he stopped dancing. And I remember going to the school. He was a very good teacher. And he did a dance, a solo dance, in her company. What was it? It was -- I forget what it was. It was to Dvorak's Humoresque. And he was perfectly charming in it. A good partner? Well, Bentley Stone was a marvelous partner for me. He was terrific.
Q: Harald Kreutzberg?
A: Kreutzberg wasn't exactly a partner. He was different from anybody else in the whole world. Nobody was ever anything like Harald Kreutzberg. We sort of choreographed the dances together. They were floating dances, and he didn't ever lift me. He wasn't that kind of partner at all. He was very, very original and very great. He was a great, great artist. But I would never call him a partner, really, at all.
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Chicago (production location of)