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Anne Kisselgoff No. 02 [April 15, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0613
Run Time
0h 8m 30s
Date Produced
April 15 1987
A: The thing to remember is that at that time, you really did have a philistine attitude toward dancing in this country, and the point was, who was going to found a ballet company? You couldn't always wait for Balanchine to come from Europe. And the people who did found ballet companies were either creative figures or wealthy patrons. Ruth Page really tried to be both. She wanted to be creative, and she did realize that she would have to do it herself.
     Having said that . . . it's all right to have the money to get a head start, but what you really need is the money to keep it going. And there has been basically a prejudice against people who act as patrons, because the assumption is that they don't need any more money, which isn't really true. The problem with patron-run companies is how much of their own work or themselves do they want to show in the company. That's where you get into some questionable issues.
Q: What I was kind of getting at with that question is . . . actually, Ruth's company was financed, no kidding, out of Columbia Artists Management when they were doing those tours, and they danced at the Lyric Opera with the little ballets that are inside the operas or inside many operas. That was really how they kept it together. Tom Fisher saved enough money each year so there could be at least one fairly big ballet every season. When the tour ended after seventeen years, that was the end of the company. Yes, there is this feeling that she was just sort of a rich person.
A: What Ruth Page really did wasn't very different from what modern dancers did, and every modern dancer until recently formed a company to show off his or her own choreography. Every modern dancer wanted to dance. Every modern dancer felt, therefore, that he had to break away from a previous mentor and then do his or her own thing. And this is, in fact, the basis of American modern dance.
     John Martin, who was the [New York] Times critic during the time that Ruth Page was most active, said modern dance is not a system, it is a point of view. Ruth Page didn't do anything that was any different from what modern dance choreographers did. However, in ballet, we tend to think of companies as eclectic and that they should have a repertoire of many works. Of course, this was modified by George Balanchine when he founded the New York City Ballet with Lincoln Kirstein.
     But even in those early days they had works by many choreographers. Of course, there is no question that she was interested in showing her own work; you can't get away from that. But then, as I said, if you think of her as a modern dance mind working within a ballet context, I think she comes into perspective a little more clearly.
Q: Someone has called her the American Massine. What do you think of that idea?
A: To call her the American Massine really depends on what you think of Massine. He's out of favor at the moment. Leonide Massine was definitely the top international choreographer in the '30s and '40s, and maybe his  reputation will rise again. At the moment, I would say that it's at mid-point; it's not at an entire low. His ballets are not being given today, maybe for the same reason that we don't see as many of Ruth Page's ballets, which is that he specialized in character ballets that involved steps as well as images that didn't have a purely classical image. Maybe she isn't a purely classical choreographer, though it seems to me, from what I've seen of her footwork, that's what her vocabulary was -- classical ballet. However, she didn't do pure dance, plotless ballets, and that's what's been in favor. Massine, who worked in a wider range than people think, is what you would call somebody interested in character ballets.
Q: In what ways would you say that American dance is richer for the fact that Ruth Page has been a part of it?
A: American dance certainly has been enriched by the idea that anybody even thought that America could have a ballet company in the '20s and '30s, and also by the fact that she showed that ballets didn't have to be one thing. I really think that every time you see Frankie and Johnny, you see a specifically American flavor. There is no way that Frankie and Johnny could have been choreographed in Europe.
Q: Is there anything which I haven't asked you that you would like to say?
A: The only thing I really want to stress is that I do think that Ruth Page is an American original. That's a very hard term to define. But she's typical of a certain kind of American artist, especially a woman who would be found in the '20s and '30s and even the '40s. Today, that kind of figure does not stand out. Perhaps there are more of them and therefore they don't look original, but certainly in her time, she was an original.
Q: Do you have any personal memories of Ruth Page -- incidents that give us an insight to her character or something that happened to you?
A: I've seen Ruth Page in a variety of settings: Jacob's Pillow, at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, in her magnificent apartment in Chicago, at lectures or performances, and she always struck me as being "one of the boys." The thing is, I think, she is very interested. As I said, you always expect her to put her leg up on the table. You also do always expect her to be wearing purple gloves with a black cape and some strange scarf and a green turban. I don't think she does it for effect; I think she does it because she likes it. That's the main thing about her. I think she's enjoyed what she's done.
Q: Great! Thank you.
Related Place
New York (production location of)