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Dolores Lipinski No. 18 [July 3, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0594
Run Time
0h 19m 12s
Date Produced
July 3 1985
Q: You've known Ruth for at least 29 years. When did you meet Ruth, Dolores?
A: Well, I first came downtown to study in 1948, and I think I danced for her about a year after that. The first thing I did, it was a pas de deux that she had done, Sylvia. She used two children in it to be cupids that kept bringing this couple together. And I was one of those little girls. That was the first time I danced for her. And then after that we had lots of things we did at St. Alphonsus. We went on a tour for six weeks, at one point to North Dakota and Iowa and small places. And we did a little bit of touring here and there, and things grew and grew and grew, and before you knew it, she had Lyric. And we went right into Lyric from high school. And then the company started out of that, and so in a funny way she made our careers happen.
Q: I sometimes think that you and Orrin and Pat and Larry are the closest thing that Ruth has to -- really children, to family. How do you look at her, I mean, it's not quite like that for you, is it, Dolores?
A: Well, yes, it is kind of like that. I didn't think so when it was happening, but now as I look at it . . . I mean her influence on our lives is tremendous because we started with her so young that she had to influence your taste in dancing and clothes. She put us in the most expensive things, so I acquired a taste for expensive clothes and good-looking things. And art. We had famous artists, you know, do the costumes and scenery. And exposed us to all of that. Great music, being in the opera. My husband said I'm exactly, I'm like her very much now. But it's because of the influence of being around her that long a period of time.
     When I think about it, I probably spent as much time with her as I did with my mother and father. Really. And outside of my two teachers and my parents, Miss Page has to be the biggest influence in my whole life. When I look at dancers today, if their hat isn't on right I go, "Oh, what's wrong with them, they don't know how to wear a hat." And that was what she was always saying to us, "Oh, you don't know how to wear a hat, tilt that," you know, "put that on an angle." And she really had a tremendous influence on our lives. Gave us discipline. I mean, when we were young, she really . . . if you weren't in class she'd say, "Where were you this morning?" And you'd better had a good excuse. And I still do class, even though I don't perform anymore. I come to class every day. And I think it was because of her. She drilled that into you that [it] was important for a dancer to take on that kind of responsibility. And also she gave us tremendous opportunities. Now Patricia and myself did the Merry Widow, the lead in the Merry Widow at the same time. And we must have been somewhere between 17 and 21. Carrying a ballet, you know, the responsibility, and you couldn't do that if somebody hadn't really laid down the law in giving you kind of discipline prior to that. And she did.
     At the time it was hard to take, you know. But, thank God, she did; because it allowed us to take on the responsibility of doing leads in ballets much earlier than most people probably would have. And especially at that time. Nobody considered you an artist until you were in your thirties in those days. And here we were youngsters and getting opportunities to really do lots of things like that. Of course, then Balanchine really changed all of that. He wanted younger and younger dancers doing things sooner. But we were very fortunate that she allowed that kind of thing to happen so early in our lives.
Q: What was your relationship like to her, Dolores, when you were starting out after all as a little girl? How did she seem to you? How do you remember her in those days? And how does she seem different to you now?
A: She was a tough taskmaster in those days. I remember, now that I teach, that she didn't like when we laughed. And we were at the giggly age, when girls really are silly and laugh about anything. And she would get very upset if we laughed. And now that I'm teaching, I have that age group, and I always say to them, "God is giving it back to me," because now I have to deal with the gigglers, you know. If you try and get them to do things with style or something that's unusual or to use their imagination, they think it's silly. And I did, too. But you get over that, and you need to have all of that experience to really carry off ballets. You're not always pretending that you're a person. Sometimes you pretend you're things and birds like Swan Lake and things. And you have to have imagination, and you need someone to stimulate that.
     And I remember, I was fortunate, when we first did Carmen at Lyric Opera, to get the big dance on the table in the second act. Every time I went to rehearse, she'd say, "Oh, you're just awful in that. You don't understand how a Spanish dances." Well, I hadn't really seen that many Spanish dancers in my life. But I didn't understand, and she kept after me and kept after me until finally one day I got very angry at her, and I think I gave her a little bit more of what she was looking for, a little more fire and music. And finally she said, "Well, that's better." But now when we're working with dancers and we have to do something Spanish, and you look at them, they lack all the flavor that you need. I mean the Spanish dancer is temperament and style and all of this. And it's hard to get a young person to do that. But she got it out of you. She really did. And I admire her for that. At the time it was hard, but everything in life is hard, really. And if somebody can get it out of you, I don't think it matters which way they go about it so long as the end result is there. And that she got out of all of us in our own way.
     She treated us all very differently. But I think I wouldn't have been half the dancer I was if it hadn't been for her demands on us. She pushed you as far as she thought you could go and beyond. And that's what people really need, because you are capable of doing so much more than you think at the time. But if somebody isn't really demanding it from you, of course, you don't give as much as you can. And so you don't grow as an artist.
     And we did so many varied ballets, where you played. I mean, I did Carmen and all kinds of wonderful things that I really enjoyed doing. I like doing story ballets. I think I probably was much more a dramatic dancer than I was a classical dancer. And I liked doing comic things, and I had lots of opportunities. I say now, if I had my life to live over again, I would like to have been a comedian. It's nice to leave people laughing, I think, in the world. And we did lots of ballets where we got to use all of that kind of talent. So it wasn't just doing Swan Lake and, you know, the classical repertoire. We had lots of fun in all the things we did.
     And also the tours we went on were very interesting. I say to our kids today, "Do you know what this country looks like?" I mean, I toured eighteen years with her, and we went across this country many, many times. And to see the expanse of our country, to give you the feeling of moving big because we come from a big country. Like Russia is a large country. And the dancers in Russia dance very big, and the dancers in America should dance big, too, because we come from a big country where there's lots of space and things. But I think if you don't see the country, you don't realize all of this and the effects it has on the way you dance. And all the things we saw, I mean the theaters. We played probably every theater, large and small, across the country. And the experience, we danced so much more than the dancers dance today. I was saying the other day when we started, you still did matinees on Wednesday, you did them on Saturday, you did them on Sunday, so you were just performing a lot. Which is what you need to really be a good dancer. To really get out there and dance on a small stage, big stage, bad lighting, good lighting, you know. Audience that isn't warm to get responses out of them. Just tremendous experience we got from her.
Q: When you were touring in those community concerts starting in 1956 and then going on in different forms for another eighteen years, what were the . . . it was different, there weren't regional ballet companies. What did you sense coming back to you from the audiences that came in from teeny, tiny towns to see you dance?
A: Oh, they just loved us. We were, I don't know if you know Hubbard Street [Dance Company] today as the success they had. Well, we had that kind of success and community conscience, because we did the Merry Widow and Fledermaus and light operettas. And so many people went out of the theaters singing the tunes, you know, humming the tunes, because the music is so familiar to most people, and lots of them Miss Page would say, "Now these people have never seen dance before. It's important that you really give them a good impression of dance so they will come back and see other people dance."
     And we brought dance to a lot of . . . you know, they say Anna Pavlova was the pioneer. I think we were, Ballet Russe, and Miss Page's company was the next, because we did go to a lot of places where other companies, bigger companies, couldn't go with a large company and lots of scenery and things like that. Lots of the theaters wouldn't even have held a big company. So I think we brought lots of enjoyment to lots of people that wouldn't have known about it. After a while when we would go and play these places, people would know us and would actually say, "Oh, it's nice to see you again. How have you been doing? Haven't seen you in two years," and "We like the new ballets." Like they really knew who we were and everything. It was really wonderful.
Q: It must also have been very grueling, one-night stands all the way, right?
A: Oh, it was a hard life. I don't know if the dancers today would put up with it. It was hard to sit on a bus. Sometimes we would, if it was a long trip, fourteen hours we had done sometimes, and got up and danced. And we always toured in the winter, so the roads were bad, and things took so much longer than we had planned on taking. But all of us really loved to dance, and so if that's the way you're gonna have to do it, we did it.
     And when I look back on it, I really think it was worth all of that. And the experience we got and learning to perform that much in front of people, it wasn't all that hard, and you must remember we were very young when we started, and so you got very used to being able to sit that length of time. When I have to take a bus trip now I'm sore for two days, you know, but at the time when you're young and you do that, you sort of build up the immunity it takes to handle all of that. And it was always very exciting to see new places and do new ballets and see how people responded to things.
     I don't know if you know about the ballet Bolero that Miss Page did. Well, when we first started doing it -- which was in . . . I think, the first season we did was 1969 -- people wrote letters saying that the ballet was "bad" and it "shouldn't be shown;" it was "too provocative" and stuff. And when you look at it today, it's nothing compared to the things you see going on. But at the time, it caused quite a stir, and we had to take it out of the repertoire while we were touring. And we put it back when we hit Los Angeles. And they loved it there. We got wonderful reviews, and they thought the ballet was everything. So then we all felt better about it, that we weren't doing something we shouldn't.
Q: Describe, Dolores, the story of Ruth's Bolero.
A: Well, the Bolero takes place in a whorehouse, and it's a strip tease, which is a lot of fun to be able to do to that wonderful music. And the ballet starts with the curtain closed and the girls are knitting, sitting in these chairs with their legs spread apart in body tights with stockings and jewelry on and all this. But they have knitting needles, and you hear this clinking, but with the curtains closed you can't image what that sound is. And when the curtain opens and here are all these voluptuous, sexy girls knitting. I mean the audience would laugh. It was, you know, funny. And then, of course, I came on and was dressed completely. And then as the dance progressed, I took off my clothes. But it was all in very good taste and very humorous, I think, when you see. So I don't know, except there were a lot of older people on the Community Concert things, and I think they mainly objected to that. Because there was really nothing that risqué. I mean you had full body tights on. And when we did Carmina, you wore full body tights. And lots of ballets were being done in that kind of costuming. But they just probably didn't know about it or didn't see it on television, like you do now. You see so much more dance, that I think you become accustomed to seeing that kind of thing. But it was a wonderful ballet. I think that later on people got so that they really enjoyed seeing it. It was just a shock a bit that first group.
Q: Tell me a little bit, if you can, the way a day would go when you were on the road.
A: Well, when we were on the road we got up very early. Usually when, well, the company . . . we had our orchestra travel with us, and there were usually about twenty-six to thirty dancers, and then there were twelve or fourteen musicians. And we all had to eat in the same restaurant, so that meant that, if you wanted anything to eat, you had to get up really early to get into that restaurant and get some food. So you got . . . well, the first couple tours I was the one who always overslept. And came down in my pajamas with just trousers thrown over and my coat -- many, many mornings. But I got discipline and that didn't happen to me after awhile, because everybody would yell at you if you were late, because you kept all of them waiting. So everybody would scream, "What's the matter with you? Why don't you get two alarm clocks?" and stuff like that. So I got better.
     Well, say we got up at 6:30, got down there by 8:00. If it was a long trip, we usually left at 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. We would ride, if we were lucky, 'til about maybe 2:00 or 2:30. Went into a hotel -- we had a whole system where one person would go check while one ran into the restaurant and got a place -- because restaurants closed in hotels, so you had to do it that way -- ordered something to eat. We went up into the rooms and rested, or you always had toe shoes to sew, to wash the ribbons, to clean up the shoes, to pin up your hair for the evening's performance, wash out maybe some things you hadn't washed. Because you had to wash your practice clothes in those days. You had to wash what you performed in. Unions did not, were not required to wash clothes like they are now. So you had to wash your things you danced in. You had to wash what you wore. So there was an awful lot of washing, hand washing to do all of the time. And so you do that, then you get back on the bus say at about 5:00 or so, go to the theater and set everything up, your makeup and get your costumes all together and things like that. Then would come class, then would come performance. Get back on the bus. Go and try and find someplace to eat. Have a little snack maybe before you went, and then go to bed, and get up the next morning. And wash clothes again. And it was really a busy, busy life.
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Chicago (production location of)