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Ruth Page Orange Room No. 01 [March 25, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0556
Run Time
0h 19m 9s
Date Produced
March 25 1985
Q: Your birthday was Friday.
A: It was very overwhelming. It was almost too much. They had a marvelous party. The mothers of the children who go to my school, called Friends of Ruth Page, and they really gave the party. It was a marvelous party. And I don't know how they found all my friends, but everybody was there and it was very exciting. We raffled off some trips, and I talked to everybody and I had a very good time. It was a wonderful party.
Q: Now, I know that when you came into the party, you were there and you must have stood, Ruth, for two hours before you sat down at the party. Did you get tired?
A: No. I was having a nice time. I didn't get tired.
Q: And earlier in the day, what did you do when you got up in the morning? How did you spend the day of your 85th birthday?
A: It was my 86th birthday.
Q: 86?
A: Yes.
Q: Okay.
A: Well, I went to class. I always go to class [at eleven] and do barre. Had lunch, came home, changed clothes and went to the party -- at 5:00, I think it was, wasn't it?
Q: And before that? Yes, the party was at 7:00.
A: 7:00.
Q: And before that, the slide show.
A: Oh, I did a slide show that day, too. You're right. Where did I go? I can't remember.
Q: The Academy high school.
A: Yes. I did that at one o'clock. Yes, that's right. They were a very nice audience over there. The day before, I did one before a bunch of old ladies, and they didn't know what I was talking about. It was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. I practically stood on my head to get them interested, and I just couldn't. They just sat there completely blank. But at the Academy, it was wonderful. Of course, they are all people who are interested in the theatre and that was very much fun. I enjoyed that.
Q: And one of the teachers at the Academy, the head of the dance program is . . . .
A: Orrin Kayan, yes. He's been with me for a long time.
Q: One of your dancers.
A: Yes.
Q: What was the best thing about your birthday? What was the most fun; what did you enjoy the most?
A: Seeing all my friends, I think. Don't you?
Q: When the children brought you the flowers, what were you thinking as they brought them to you?
A: How sweet they were. They were darling. We have charming children in the school, and I thought it was lots of fun that they came to the party. It was a wonderful party, actually. I never had such a nice birthday party before in my whole life.
Q: Well, that's saying something, because I imagine you have had a lot of good ones.
A: Yes. I've had a lot of those. I've certainly had a lot!
Q: The training that the kids are getting at your school is very different from the training that you had when you grew up in Indianapolis.
A: Oh, well, ours is a real school. In my day in Indianapolis, there weren't any real ballet schools. There are probably very good ones there now. I don't know. But, I just studied with a teacher there that called it "fancy dancing." I don't think I learned much. But I went to New York for school and I took lessons with Adolph Bolm and I had lessons from Cecchetti in London and Monte Carlo.
     I began all wrong. In my school, they're taught right from the beginning. We have an excellent teacher for the children, Patricia Klekovic, and I watch the children's classes. I go in there and watch them quite often. It's a long process to learn to dance. I didn't realize how hard it was to learn to dance, but it's very hard to learn to dance. And she's very patient with them. They really learn properly; learn the names of the steps, and how to do them correctly. They learn how to do the different rhythms, in the mazurka, you know, and the waltz. That's the hardest one for everybody to learn, apparently.
Q: Why?
A: I don't know. Waltzing doesn't seem to be natural to anybody these days. Everybody used to waltz, I suppose, in our grandmothers' day, but in our day, people never waltz. They're starting to again, now. But it's a rhythm that doesn't come easily. It's hard to be that graceful. You've got to be graceful for the waltz, and I think our style of dancing is more "hotcha" and jazzy steps, you know, "struts," and I don't know what we all do. But nobody waltzes anymore, I guess. It's starting to come back into fashion though, I think. It's lots of fun to waltz. I just discovered that.
Q: You've choreographed some marvelous waltzes.
A: Well, that's for professional dancers, of course. Those are all professional dancers.
Q: The Merry Widow, you mean.
A: Oh, yes. They're marvelous waltzes.
Q: Now, the children at the school are learning, would you say . . . . What is the curriculum at the school? Is it classical? And modem? Or, what is it?
A: Well, it's mostly classical. They can learn modem later. But we like them to start with classical. The little children, we just teach them to start to skip around -- skip, hop and jump -- the little tiny ones. But at seven, they start ballet very seriously, and learn correctly.
Q: Now, when you see a child of seven, are you able to tell whether or not that child has talent?
A: Oh, you can tell, sort of, but you can't really tell. So much depends on the child, whether she or he wants to do it. Some of them don't want to do it at all and their mothers force them into it, you see. And I think it's good that the mothers do, because everybody should learn to dance, not just dancers. I think everybody should learn to dance because it's just good exercise, it's fun to do, and very scientifically arranged. But we don't start them seriously on ballet until they're seven.
Q: Do you think it teaches discipline?
A: Oh, yes. It teaches you to think -- your mind tells your body what to do. I think it teaches a lot of different things: discipline, quick thinking. Your body's important, I mean, how you use it in life. Isn't it?
Q: Yes. Is there such a thing as a naturally graceful person? There are, aren't there? Or is it learned? How much of it is learned?
A: Oh, lots of people are naturally graceful. Not very many, but some are. Oh, yes, of course. Some are just naturally bom graceful.
Q: And you. You were bom graceful, I should think.
A: I don't know. I always danced. I always remember wanting to dance. Always, from the time I learned to walk. But I don't know if I was graceful or not. I have no idea, really.
Q: Can you sense . . . . How old does a child have to be before you sense that, as a dancer, this child holds promise of having a certain kind of individual flair or style?
A: Well, you can tell when they are 7 or 8 or 9.
Q: Can you really?
A: Yes, sure. A lot of them don't stick to it. It's just too hard, you know. A lot of them don't want to do it. And you don't make very much money out of it either, unfortunately. So a lot of them don't stay with it because they can't make their living out of it, or because they get tired of it and they're not that interested in it.
Q: A lot of people associated with your school are former dancers. People who danced.
A: Oh, yes.
Q: Dolores Lipinski.
A: Yes. Dolores has been with me since she was a little, teeny girl. She studied with Bentley Stone. He was her teacher. She's Larry Long's wife. She's a marvelous teacher. She teaches in our school. She was a marvelous dancer, too.
Q: Now, do you think that, in general, it's true that former dancers make the best teachers?
A: Not necessarily. Margaret Craske was a wonderful teacher. I don't know if she ever danced or not. I really have no idea. Cecchetti was supposed to be the greatest classical teacher, and he was supposed to be a good [dancer]. He used to do the Blue Bird marvelously, they say, but it was so long ago, nobody remembers. So, who knows whether he did or not? Now we can take films, of course, of all these people. We know. But in those days, we didn't have any [moving] pictures. We haven't any [moving] pictures of Pavlova. Oh, there's one or two very bad ones, but they're nothing like her.
Q: Does that make you sad, Ruth? I mean, doesn't it make you sad or angry that there aren't? There are some of your ballets, for example . . . .
A: Oh, they're completely lost. My ballets are almost all completely lost. The Merry Widow isn't lost, because we kept doing it and it was done on television. Also Frankie and Johnny. And also, I think, Romeo and Juliet. And what else? What?
Q: Billy Sunday?
A: Billy Sunday, yes. Those four are preserved.
Q: Speaking of preserving, the other day we were looking and I said to you that I had found . . . . Do you have your glasses? Do you need your glasses to read something? Do you remember I said that someplace I read your notes for this Polka Melancolique that Balanchine choreographed for you?
A: Yes.
Q: Here they are.
A: Oh, I don't want to read.
Q: You don't?
A: No.
Q: I wonder if you could remember what they [meant] from the look of them.
A: Oh, probably. Well, I'll have to get my glasses. [Reads:] "When I was with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in Monte Carlo, when I was also on my honeymoon . . . ." Well, that doesn't say anything about . . . .
Q: Here it is. It's right here. It's right here, where it says, "Run in . . . ."
A: Oh. "Run in from the back right-hand corner, up on toes in fifth and shake your head" -- it looks like -- "and at the same time . . . ." I can't read without my glasses. They're in my dressing room, on my table. I can sort of read it, but it's such fine print.
Q: Yes, it is.
A: How do you want me to read it?
Q: Yes. I wondered if in reading it -- we can wait until the glasses come -- I wondered if in reading it, you would remember back to what the little dance looked like. It looks like it must have been a very short dance.
A: It was. I told you it was very short. It was no more than 3 minutes at the most; 3 or 4 minutes, something like that. Just a little solo, nothing special. It wasn't anything very typical of Balanchine.
     [Reads:] "Run in from right-hand corner, up on toes in fifth, and shake head left, right, left, at the same time, lifting right arm, comes down across face and up fourth, down across face and up fourth, then down again, ending with left arm up." That means changing arms. That's very easy to understand. "Plié on the left and fouetté kick, bringing the right to back soutenu position; posé to back soutenu, posé. Then three soutenus on toes, right-left-right, then go left, rise on toes in fifth and say, 'How do you do?' with left arm, then same with right. Then walk diagonally front left on toe, regular walk step; then one turn to right, and raise arms overhead." The notes may be a little cryptic, but I guess I knew what they meant. And I'm sure they prove that I must have been the first American to commission a dance from George Balanchine.
Q: What does it mean, "Say 'How do you do?'"
A: [Demonstrates] How do you do? Or, [demonstrates] how do you do? There's a lot if different ways of saying it.
Q: Oh. Now, as you read those notes today, as you just read them, does it strike you as any special kind of dance?
A: No. Very ordinary. Just an ordinary little dance. Very.
Q: You could see, even then, that he had a lot of talent, Ruth? Is that why you asked him?
A: Well, I saw his pas de deux. He came with Gevergeva -- Tamara Geva. They did a
number of pas de deuxs and I thought they were stunning. Most people thought they were
awful, but I thought they were marvelous. That's why I asked him. I thought he was good.
Q: Yes. Moving to a few years later. About 5 years later, as a matter of fact. In 1930,
you were invited to go to Russia and you gave six performances in Moscow.
A: They were solo performances.
Q: They were indeed. All solo performances. It was unusual for an American dancer to perform . . . .
A: In Russia.
Q: Yes. What do you remember about that trip to Russia?
A: Well, I remember Mother went with me, and two of my girlfriends went with me, and Mother got sick, and she left us right away. She said, "I don't want to get sick in Russia." So she left us. So we were on our own. We had a good time there. A very nice time. The Russians, you know, they're awfully nice, attractive, interesting people, usually. And they're all interested in dance apparently. We had a wonderful time there.
Q: Did you go to the ballet there often?
A: Not too often. We went [but] I can't remember what I saw even. They do very classical ballets, mostly. They don't do anything very . . . . They didn't at the time do anything modern that I saw. Maybe they did, but I didn't see anything modem that they did. So, they did the classics, and at that time, I wasn't especially interested in the classics. They do it right. They put the dancers in the school at the right age, and they can stay there until they die, you know. They don't have to go out and look for jobs. So, that's marvelous, I think. They don't get paid very much, but they get a living wage. And they don't ever have to leave Moscow or Leningrad; they have a school in both places. In all the cities in Russia, I think, there were schools. I wouldn't swear to it, but I know in Moscow and Leningrad there were -- St. Petersburg.
Q: And your dances, your solos, some of which were fairly modern . . . .
A: I don't remember what I did. Does it say there? Do you know what the year was? 1930?
Q: 1930.
A: I can't remember what I was doing then.
Q: You were doing what was called American dances.
A: Oh.
Q: And you did the Siamese [sic] dance, the Legong.
A: I remember that -- not exactly what you'd call American.
Q: No. Well, it was . . . .
A: Poisoned Flower, I think it was called [sic].
Q: As a matter of fact, I thought there was a list of dances, but there isn't. It's probable, Ruth, that you were doing some of the same things that you might have been doing in your programs at home. I think you did do a Gershwin.
A: Yes. I was going to say I did the Prelude in Blue of Gershwin. I did several preludes of Gershwin.
Q: And maybe you did The Flapper and the Quarterback.
A: I didn't have a partner with me, so I couldn't have done that.
Q: No, you couldn't have done that. That's right. So, that was probably [Two] Balinese Rhapsody[ies].
A: I did those, yes, the pleasure dances and the religious dances.
Q: St. Louis Blues.
A: Yes.
Q: You describe in your book Page by Page, going to see a very long socialist, socially correct, workers' ballet, that sounded as though it was just endless. It was called, I think, The Footballer, and it ended up with the ballerina coming in riding on a tractor.
A: Was that in Russia?
Q: That was in Russia.
A: I sort of vaguely remember it, yes.
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