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Ruth Page Orange Room No. 03 [March 25, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0558
Run Time
0h 18m 3s
Date Produced
March 25 1985
Q: In 1932, you met Isamu Noguchi in Chicago. Do you remember the first time you met him?
A: I met him at the Arts Club. I remember meeting him there. Some performance [Mary Wigman], that's where I first met him.
Q: You're quoted as having said he was one of "the most beautiful men" you had ever seen.
A: He was very handsome, very handsome. Very attractive.
Q: You said about him, "He had a sort of lost, faraway look that was irresistible . . . ."
A: [Laughing] Well, it's true, I think.
Q: " . . . Very penetrating eyes that looked right into your soul."
A: My goodness, did I say that?
Q: Allegedly. He was at that point at the beginning of his career, and it seems as though the two of you, there was this synergistic sort of artistic thing that happened between you. That the kind of dance that you had begun to create became even freer . . . , and the sculpture that he was moving into, I think, was, to a certain degree, influenced by you.
A: I don't know. I couldn't say. He always did beautiful sculptures. They are very different now. He's changed a lot over the years. But he was, I think, a very great sculptor, and I think he's continued to be all his life. He did those drawings, too -- those are stunning, I think -- of the sacks.
Q: How did the idea for the sack come about?
A: I don't know. It was his idea.
Q: It was his idea?
A: It wasn't my idea.
Q: Do you remember your first reaction to it? What did he say? "Ruth, why don't you do a dance in a sack?"
A: No. He gave me some designs and we had them made. We took jersey material which stretches, you know, and got somebody to sew it up for us, and then I got inside. They were awfully interesting. Very, very. You could do anything inside them. They were unusual.
Q: Very unusual. That must have been quite a challenge, figuring out what the choreography should be inside the sack?
A: Well, you had to put the sack on and see what you could do in it that would be interesting, you know; how you could take it here and push it out there. There are pictures of me you can see. It's very easy to see what I was doing inside the sack. It was always very, very interesting, I think. I didn't do them very long. They were intriguing for the time, at the time. You couldn't "dance" very much, the so-called conventional way of dancing.
Q: The first time you went out on stage with the sacks, were you worried? Were you afraid the audience might laugh?
A: No, I wasn't at all. I don't remember the first time I went out on stage in a sack. Usually, I started sitting on the floor, and the curtain went up, and I was in it in different positions, and I'd get up and move around. They never laughed. There was nothing to laugh at.
Q: Shocked. Were they shocked?
A: I don't think so. I think they were just very interested. Everybody seemed interested. Martha Graham used them a lot, also, later.
Q: And then the sticks. Using the sticks. The sticks were someone else's ideas? Or Noguchi's?
A: No. They were my ideas.
Q: Oh, the sticks were your idea!
A: And the elastics were mine. His idea was just the sack.
Q: Just the sack. Expanding Universe.
A: That's when I was inside the sack.
Q: You named it?
A: No. I think he gave it that name. I don't remember who named it. The titles of the dances don't make much difference. If you notice today, the titles of the dances don't give you any clue as to what they are all about. They're all so crazy. And this one didn't either: Expanding Universe. When you think about it, what does it mean? I don't know what it means, do you?
Q: I think it would go with the idea of expanding the universe of the mind, expanding the perceptions of the dance.
A: Yes. Well, if that's your interpretation, I'll accept that. It's as good as any.
Q: Okay. And the sculpture Expanding Universe in the living room.
A: What about it?
Q: He did that before you did the dance; after you did the dance?
A: I think it was after. Quite a bit after [sic].
Q: Would you say that the work that you did with Noguchi was part of an expanding universe for you, part of your growth as a choreographer?
A: I don't think so. No.
Q: It was not an especially important time?
A: Everything at the time is important to you. Afterwards it seems less important, you know. You go on to other things and you forget about what you did in the past. My career sort of went in cycles. I had the American period and I had the period when I made operas into ballets; a period when I had all the music specially written. And then I went into a period where I used music that was already written, like The Nutcracker and Carmina Burana, Catulli Carmina. So, you go in various cycles. When we had Wilckens, he composed everything for us, because he knew what we were doing and he was at all our rehearsals. Louis Horst was the same. Louis Horst composed some dances for me because we were working together all the time. He did the Balinese dances, I think. I forget what else he did. But it's wonderful if you have somebody that's talented who's working with you. Or, you can take music and have it [written]; music that's already written is fine also.
     Merce Cunningham doesn't care what music they use for his dances. He says they can play anything they want to. It doesn't bother him at all. Balanchine, on the other hand, is entirely inspired by the music. He finds a marvelous piece of music and he's completely influenced by the music. So, you see, there are all kinds of different ways to choreograph. There isn't one set rule. One day you'll do it this way, and a year from then, you'll do it some other way. You go in periods, I think. In various periods.
     I know my husband, who's an artist, he goes in cycles, too. When he was in Japan, he painted some Japanese things. When he was in Guatemala, he used the colors of Guatemala. And now he's in a period of doing harlequins. He's got millions of harlequins all over the house. I don't know when he'll get out of that period. And the brothels of Bombay. He's done a lot of those. He's not here right now, so I don't know what he's painting. He'll be back soon. Maybe he'll be in the same period. I don't know.
Q: When you would move from one period to another, were you aware of a sense of progress, or did it seem to you it was merely change?
A: It was just change. You can't do everything always the same every day. You've got to go one way or the other. Backwards or forwards; sideways or upside down. You can't just stick in one place. It's impossible. At least I can't. I don't think it's possible for anybody to do that.
Q: Oh, I don't know. Don't you think that there are some people, artists, even, who don't grow, Ruth? Who do the same thing over and over?
A: Well, maybe that's true. I'm trying to think. Rodin certainly changed a lot. Monet and Manet both did. I don't know. I don't know enough about that many artists. I don't know what they do. You get up in the morning and do what you feel like doing.
Q: Do you think if you had not been involved with the opera, if that first opera job that you got at Ravinia had not come to you, that you would have sought out the opera as a likely place to expand to?
A: No. I don't at all. I love opera and I was influenced by it because I was always in an opera company. But it's not an ideal place for a choreographer at all, because there's so little you can do. There are very few opera ballets that are really worth doing. Some of them are. Like there's a great big ballet in Faust, the Gounod Faust, which is marvelous to do. Tannhaüser has a wonderful big ballet. But on the whole, they're something that fits into the opera, they're a peasant dance, or something. You have to fit yourself into the opera. Bartered Bride is sort of a fun one. It's charming music, Smetana's music. But on the whole there are not many opportunities. It's a job. You get paid every week. So, it's not so bad to do it.
Q: That counts for something. What would you say is the ideal kind of setting for the choreographer?
A: Well, the ideal would be that you'd have a whole company at your disposal, and you could work with them as long as you wanted to. And get the composers that you want to compose the music, and get the designers that you want to compose the costumes. Then an audience to do it for. It requires an awful lot. It isn't like a painter, where you can paint something and it doesn't matter. It can be appreciated 10 years from now and the painter just puts his pictures aside. But you can't do that with dance. They have to see it then and now. Now it's better because you can take films of your ballets. But it wasn't until recently that you could do that. That's what you have to have.
     The WPA was very good. They gave you a studio, and they gave you carte blanche to do whatever you wanted to do. They gave you all the time you wanted. I was only on the WPA for a year, that's when I did Frankie and Johnny and some of my best ballets. Because we had time. You could have class as long as wanted to work on your dancers' technique. We had a modern group and a classical group. I appreciated the time very much.
Q: That's when you were working with Bentley Stone at the WPA? Later, when you had the Page-Stone Ballet, when you had your own company, it sounds a little bit like the ideal.
A: Well, it was, except you didn't have enough money, don't you see? It costs a lot of money to engage a studio, engage a pianist, engage the dancers. As long as we had tours and we had places to work . . . . Well, Bentley wasn't with me when I did The Nutcracker, but when I got that that was very good because it goes on from year to year. When did I do that? I think it's 20 years old. I think that will go on forever. But it took me a long time to do it. And it was worth doing. It was paid for by the [Chicago] Tribune, [the] Tribune and McCormick place. So they own it. That was well worth doing. But I didn't have many opportunities like that.
Q: It seems as though in the period of the '30s and '40s and even '50s, a good many people important in American choreography were working as part of opera companies.
A: I don't know. I don't think so.
Q: Well, at the Metropolitan . . . .
A: There was nobody important there.
Q: Nobody important there?
A: Nobody that I know of. Maybe there was.
Q: Maybe there was and they left. So, it's far from ideal.
A: Oh, the opera isn't ideal at all for the choreographer. As I say, it gives you weekly money and you have company there all the time. It's valuable in that respect. And I couldn't have done The Merry Widow if I hadn't had an opera company behind me. I couldn't have done that if I hadn't had that company there.
Q: So, in Chicago, opera was really a very important thing to you, because you moved from the Ravinia Opera, then to . . . .
A: I was with all the Chicago opera companies.
Q: I know. They changed names. They started a new one, and you were in it.
A: The Chicago Opera, probably. The Lyric Opera was later. When was it?
Q: In 1934, then, you finished the season at Ravinia [sic] and were asked to be the premiere danseuse and choreographer of the Chicago Grand Opera, which was a new company starting. And that's where you met Bentley Stone.
A: Oh, was it?
Q: Yes. He was dancing with the company.
A: Oh, he was?
Q: He was the premier male dancer, and when he heard you had signed on, he very much wanted to stay. It seems as though that was a pretty good creative group. Isaac Van Grove . . . .
A: He was wonderful.
Q: Remisoff was at that point the artistic director [sic]. Bentley Stone and Blake Scott, with whom you danced before, and Bentley Stone. That's where you met Bentley. It seems like it was a good group of people. Do you remember at all being excited about the opportunity to move from the suburbs into the opera in the city?
A: No.
Q: Just another job?
A: Yes. I was glad to get the job with the opera companies. Very delighted.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)