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Ruth Page Orange Room No. 02 [March 25, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0557
Run Time
0h 17m 11s
Date Produced
March 25 1985
Q: We were talking about the performance that you saw of the Russian ballet that was very socialistically correct, that was called The Footballer. And there was a lot of dancing around at the end and the prima ballerina came in riding on a tractor. It was sort of a dance of the workers' democracy. What do you remember about that?
A: Very little. I just remember that last, when she came in on the tractor. But it was sort of unexpected to see that in Russia, because they're so very classical. I don't know why they were doing that. I suppose they were trying to be modern. They didn't want people just to think they did nothing but Swan Lake and all those classical ballets. I suppose that was the reason. I don't know.
Q: It doesn't seem, from reading the things that you've written about that particular trip to Russia, that you felt any sense that you were going to your spiritual home -- the home, after all, of Pavlova and the classical ballet one associates with Russia.
A: Well, Pavlova left there when she was no age at all, and I don't think she ever went back to Russia.
Q: I think you're right. I guess I meant the tradition. Did you feel that you were . . . .
A: No. Uh-uh.
Q: Because you were by that time into creating a tradition of your own?
A: Yes, I guess so. I suppose so. But Russia didn't mean very much to me. I was interested in it -- I'm always interested in any country, no matter where, what they're doing. But Russia's not especially more interesting than any place else.
Q: On the trip back from Russia . . . . On the trip out to Russia -- I'm sorry, I mean on the boat -- you met for the first time -- I think possibly you had seen him dance before -- Harald Kreutzberg.
A: Yes.
Q: And I guess that was important.
A: Well, yes, certainly. He was a very, very -- I think he was a genius. And a charming, charming person. We always had a lot of fun together. He loved to laugh. We laughed a lot and he didn't take anything very seriously. But when he did the Three Mad Figures -- that was his best dance, I think -- they were very serious. And I was flattered when he asked me to dance with him. I was thrilled to death. I enjoyed dancing with him. We sort of created the dances together, you know, which you usually do with your partner. It's hard to say where one begins and you sort of do it together. I remember we did a Country Dance. And we did a Bacchanale, which was very, very modern, we thought: very up to date. And an Arabian dance, we always called it "Arabian Nuts," but it was Arabian Nights. And we did one, two, or three others. I don't remember what they were.
Q: You did a dance called Tropic, didn't you?
A: Yes. That was a solo. That was my most successful dance.
Q: Your most successful dance?
A: Yes.
Q: Why do you say that?
A: Well, the audience liked it, critics liked it -- everybody liked it. It was interesting and unusual.
Q: You did it dressed in a mask.
A: I had a mask on, yes.
Q: Did it have a story?
A: No. It was just . . . the mood of the tropics, sort of heavy, to the ground; there wasn't any jumping or anything. It was slow-moving, very like the mood of the tropics. You think of the hot countries . . . . I don't know why it was so successful, but it was.
Q: Sexy? Was it sexy? I know that you performed it at the Rainbow Room. I wonder if it was kind of exotic.
A: It was very exotic. I don't know if it was sexy. It was very exotic, yes. Very.
Q: About Kreutzberg. There are some photographs of him that I was looking at for myself. I was struck by how he's almost scary-looking -- you know, the bald head, Ruth . . . .
A: It was Max Reinhardt who had him shave his head. He shaved it for something that Max Reinhardt was doing, and everybody liked it so much, he just kept it that way. [Friedrich "Fritz"] Wilckens was his pianist. He went every place with him, did all his business for him and everything. None of those [photographs] look exactly like Kreutzberg. This is one of his dances, I forget which one. Is this all about Kreutzberg?
Q: That's just a little piece about Kreutzberg. He seems to have made an enormous influence on you, Ruth. You say the two major influences on your dancing were Pavlova and Kreutzberg.
A: Well, no. I said that they were the two that I thought were the greatest dancers that I've ever been with. But I don't know how they influenced me. Pavlova influenced everybody, because she was so great and everybody wanted to dance. Because she inspired them -- all my generation of dancers. She was an inspiration to all of us. And Kreutzberg was the first of the real modern dancers that we'd ever seen, and he brought something very new to the dance. He wasn't classical at all.
Q: He had no classical training?
A: No. I don't think he had any training at all. He just danced. He didn't have any training. I think maybe he took a couple of lessons from Mary Wigman, but I'm not even sure of that. She was the big influence in Germany. She was the one who started the whole modem dance trend.
Q: And the kind of dancing that he did, Ruth, I know that there was one time in Germany when you went to see him dancing on the steps of a church.
A: Steps of a church?
Q: Yes. On the steps of a cathedral. In Salzburg.
A: Oh, I don't remember that.
Q: You don't?
A: No. He lived in Salzburg, I know that.
Q: What was there about his dancing, I mean, which of his dances do you remember?
A: As I told you, the Three Mad Figures were the most interesting.
Q: Yes. I mean sort of the way he moved, the choreography, if you could describe it for us.
A: Well, it's hard to put dance into words, you know. I could get up and dance it for you.
Q: That'd be okay.
A: But, he did a lot of running, in different kinds of ways, you know, and moved very gracefully -- again I use that word -- and dramatically, also. He was very expressive. That picture in the hall there, that's Kreutzberg in the Three Mad Figures, one of them [sic]. There were three of them, and this is one of them. But the Bacchanale we did was not like an ordinary bacchanale that you'd expect. It was very modern. It's hard to describe it. There's a picture of it in there. You could look at the picture of it. I think there's one in that book.
Q: It's not the kind of bacchanale that you would expect, because it's not . . . ?
A: Free-style. Pavlova did a wonderful Bacchanale which is really what you'd expect a bacchanale to be -- just skipping around. She was just marvelous in it, I must say.
Q: But this was slower, more abstract.
A: No. It was falling to the floor . . . . They do it all the time now, roll around. That was the first time people started falling to the floor and getting up. It was jerky instead of just graceful. It wasn't graceful. It was jerky and what you'd think of as much more modern.
Q: And the kind of music that [you used] . . . .
A: I think Wilckens wrote the music for it, if I'm not mistaken. Wilckens wrote most of Kreutzberg's music.
Q: And how would you describe the music? It was modern?
A: Well, it followed the dance. It was exactly like the dance, so that it was easy to dance, because Wilckens knew what Kreutzberg was doing, and knew what we were doing, and wrote music that seemed to fit the dance, easy to dance to.
Q: But not melodic?
A: Well, some of it was.
Q: He seems to have been an almost hypnotic-looking figure. All the photographs of Kreutzberg in costume on stage . . . . You're drawn to him, even in the photographs that you see of him when he's just standing.
A: Yes, he did draw everybody to him. You wanted to look at him and see what he was going to do. He was so interesting and so unusual. He was an unusual person.
Q: How did he move? When you say he moved in a sort of jerky fashion . . . .
A: Oh, no. Just for the Bacchanale.
Q: Oh, of course, the Bacchanale.
A: No. It was mostly very smooth and very flowing. It's awfully hard to describe. You've never seen him?
Q: No.
A: That's too bad.
Q: No, I've seen him, but it was much later when he came back for Carmina Burana.
A: Well, he didn't do anything in that. He was the "Death Figure," so he didn't do anything in that.
Q: So there's no way to see, really.
A: It's a shame there are no films of him. I don't think there are. But maybe there are some in Germany. Maybe there are some in New York. But I don't have any films of Kreutzberg. I have pictures of him, but no films at all.
Q: I don't think there are very many films, if any at all. That's why it's sort of important to remember, because what you remember will be what people know of him.
A: They'll have to be from the pictures, the photographs. Well, it's too bad.
Q: What was his attitude toward you, Ruth? Did he ever try to teach you anything?
A: He wasn't a teacher at all. He gave lessons around, but people would just follow along after him, and try to do what he was doing. And some of them succeeded, and some of them didn't. They were very unusual lessons. As you know, in ballet you teach everything so scientifically and so correctly, it can only be done one way. But his, you could interpret it in different ways. But everybody tried to do what he was doing.
Q: Did he have a philosophy about dance, at all?
A: No. He wasn't cerebral at all.
Q: He didn't think about it, then? He just did it?
A: No. That's right.
Q: Was he a very emotional kind of person?
A: He was very amusing. As I say, he loved to laugh. I don't know if you would call him emotional or not. I never thought about that. I don't know.
Q: Not tempestuous, in any case?
A: No. He was a wonderful friend. Lots of fun to be with. I adored being with him. We went to Japan together, danced there together.
Q: Yes, you did.
A: In '28, I think it was. No -- '34. 1928 or '34.
Q: May of 1934. That was your second trip to Japan. And you found the country somewhat changed?
A: Well, there were no more rickshaws. When I first went, there were rickshaws around. In 1934, there wasn't a rickshaw left.
Q: And it had become industrialized. Americanized.
A: Americanized, yes. That's right.
Q: On that trip to Japan, you did some very interesting dances . . . . He did Three Mad Figures, but you did Expanding Universe and Figure in Space.
A: We did all of our regular repertoire there. Everything that we did in our repertoire, we did in Japan. We had a limited repertoire. It wasn't an enormous repertoire.
Q: You said a little about your being his partner and making up the dances. How would that work? How did you do it? Did you stand in front of a mirror or play music first, or discuss it?
A: Well, Wilckens would write the music as he saw us doing the movements. It's awfully hard to put these things into words. It's not anything you talk about. You do it. So, it's awfully hard to say. But Wilckens composed the music along as we were making the dances.
Q: And you would be in the studio somewhere, with a mirror, and just moving together. Is that how it worked?
A: Yes. Yes.
Q: And would you work on the same dance over and over again for a long time, or did they come fairly easily and quickly, once they came?
A: Well, I don't know what you'd call "easily and quickly." No. We did them quickly, I think. More quickly.
Q: In a few weeks' time rather than months and months?
A: Yes. Oh, yes.
Q: Somebody has said of you, by the time you got into the 1930s, you were "up to your ears" in your modern period.
A: Well, that's interesting!
Q: How would you describe your modern period? 1933. Let's say, 1933. That's when you were doing . . . .
A: All the sack dances, and the sticks. I did those Noguchi sack dances. Those were interesting. Those were very modem. I suppose you'd call those very modem. What else was I doing at that time? I did a dance called Possessed -- I remember that, with music by Villa-Lobos -- which was about somebody who was being possessed. It was a short dance, but a very interesting dance, I think. And I did all those abstract dances. I had two sticks that I used. The sacks and the sticks. And those elastic strings which were attached [indicating] here and here and here, and you could move them in all kinds of interesting ways.
Q: Had anyone ever done dances dressed in sacks or sticks?
A: I don't think so. Not that I know of. They were copied very much later on. But I don't think at the time that anyone had ever done them [that I know of].
Q: And the idea for the Noguchi sack . . . .
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