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Dolores Lipinski No. 19 [July 3, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0595
Run Time
0h 20m 19s
Date Produced
July 3 1985
Q: Now the kinds of programs that you did when you were on the road varied, really, a lot of them would . . . . Programs on the road, Dolores, you did a whole lot of different kinds of things. What were the things that worked and stayed in the repertoire, and what were the things that didn't and after a while went out?
A: Well, when we were touring, if we started with ballets at the beginning of the tour, we pretty much did them through that whole tour. For instance, when we first started touring, we only did Revenge and the Merry Widow. Those were the only two ballets we did for about two years. And, as a matter of fact, Larry always tells the story -- when we hit Los Angeles, he remembers coming to the Philharmonic, which is a big theater chain there, and seeing the company and saying how impressed he was with the company. And then to eventually get in the company was very exciting for him. Bolero was one that we dropped for a while, but mainly the ballets we started out with on a tour, we did.
     And of course we had to always be changing the repertoire so we could come back and play those places again. And it's more interesting for the dancers to constantly have challenges. And I'm sure Miss Page wanted to choreograph a lot, so she needed that stimulation, too. We all did . . . needed those changes of ballets and things. And it takes you really a long time to really get into a ballet though. I think performing them as much as we did is really what you need, to really be able to dance them well, not only technically, but when you're doing story ballets, you've really got to get into those characters. And it just takes lots of performing and lots of thinking about those roles to really get something out of them and make them successful to watch.
Q: What was the most difficult role you ever had to dance?
A: The most difficult role to dance. It's really funny, when I think about them, they're . . . none of them are easy. None of them. They all have their own problems. Some ballets, you have steps that frighten you or that are technically difficult for you to overcome. And sometimes the ballets don't suit your personality or your particular way of dancing. Those are the ones I think you grow the most from doing, because you really have to work hard to make yourself different and fit that.
     I was not a terribly lyrical dancer, so when I got things to do that were lyrical, they were difficult for me and I had to work really hard to make them work. Nutcracker was never really my cup of tea, as they say. But I think I learned the most from doing it, because it was not the thing that came easily to me -- to be very delicate and very soft and that.
     So each ballet you do presents a whole new problem. I always call them friends. In a way, when you first meet someone, they're not always, maybe, that easy to know and get along with. But the more you do know them, the more you meet that person and talk with them and get to know them, and you begin to understand them better and become friends with them. And then when you do the ballet again, it's like an old friend you've met again. They're a little difficult, but you've gone through the difficult stage with them and they come faster . . . getting them back is easier. But no ballet is easy, no ballet is easy, really. They're all hard. Some are more fun. You know, like when we did comic ballets, they were easier because I don't . . . you felt that the audience was happy; you made them happy, and when they were leaving, you could feel that they were leaving the theater happy. Although when we were doing Carmina Burana and the ballet ends with the Circle of Death, you know, but it was very dramatic, that was very exciting, too.
     I remember one time in particular -- in those days audiences did not stand up when they liked something -- we were playing San Antonio, I remember, and Chuck Schick and myself were doing the last ballet which was Carmina. and when we finished, the audience stood up, and that was very, very exciting to know that you had touched them in such a way that you made them respond in that way.
     That was a wonderful ballet to do, because it was dramatic, and I remember we had had some difficulty with Miss Page about the ballet because it's in three sections. You have a Spring section, a Tavern section, which is very bawdy and sexy, and then you had the part that was on pointe, that was very kind of pure love and very classical and all that. And she wanted it divided between three different couples in the company. And I fought with her. I didn't want to do it that way, because I thought the audience would get . . . if they didn't like you in one dance, maybe they'd like you in another. And so it gave you three opportunities to get, you know, an audience to like you and something. And she didn't want it that way. And boy, we argued and we fought and we fought, and finally she let us do it that way. And I think she was happy with it. With one couple doing all the sections, rather than having one couple do a section, another couple do a section. So, we won out that time, but we didn't win out too often.
     She was very strong-minded about how she wanted her ballets done, which I think if you're . . . . Not that I understand what it's like to do choreography, although I don't. I'm not a choreographer myself, but I have to make up steps for class, and I see how difficult it is to come from no place and make things up. Believe me, if I choreographed, I would be very hard on my dancers and pretty much insist they do it the way I wanted it and the way I saw it. Although she was very . . . on the other hand, she was very liberal; if you were successful doing something, and it wasn't exactly the way she wanted it, she would allow you to do it. She gave you quite a bit of leeway, which I think helped us grow, too. Not to really be terribly rigid about how you did something. She was, and she wasn't. It just depended on whether she liked the way you looked or the way you danced it or something like that. Or if you brought something to it she'd say, "Oh, all right, I like that. Leave that that way. Yes, that looks better. That makes more sense here." Or whatever.
Q: Comic things, I mean can you think of specific things, Dolores, that she did?
A: Oh, she always gave you ideas. When she would get up . . . I learned a lot. She gave me an essence of the ideas when she would get up and teach you the choreography or show you the choreography. The way she would look when she would do a movement or something, I would get the whole idea of what she was going for, possibly. And it would really stimulate my imagination to thinking how I wanted to do all of this. And all of us worked together so long. It's very rare in companies for the six principals to have danced together for such a length of time. We were very used to one another and fed off of each other with ideas, and somebody would do a move and you would go "Oh, yeah," and go into this and roll out of that, because we danced together so long. And you kind of had an idea what Miss Page was going to like and what she wasn't going to like. She liked style a great deal and temperament and the things I really like in dancing, you see.
     I wonder if she influenced me, or whether if I hadn't met her I would have liked the same things. I think about that a lot now. And I'm very curious as to where I begin and where her influence and everything on me and my teachers, of course, and all of that. Where the real you is underneath all of that. She just has had a tremendous, tremendous influence on my life. I met my husband. I would've never met my husband if I hadn't been touring in her company. Although when I married him, I was a principal and he was just corps de ballet, the low man on the totem pole. And in those days -- I don't think, maybe, it's the same in companies anymore -- but caste system was very strong. If you were a principal dancer, you were way up there, and corps de ballet was way down there. Where you were seated in dressing rooms, where you stood at the barre, everything, I  mean, was very important. It became much more liberal as times changed.
     Now, when I go into class I have to fight for my place at the barre as though I were a young kid. There isn't that kind of respect. When we were young in the company, if a principal didn't have a place to stand, you would have to stand holding on to a doorway or a chair. But they got the barre, because they were carrying the most responsibility in the company. But today's dancers, they don't think in that way at all. I mean, it's every man for himself. You've got to get in there and fight just like you're twelve all over again. But I've always been a fighter. I don't like it, but I can handle it. I think most dancers, especially female, because there are so many more girls dancing than there are men, that you have to be pretty tough at some point. You get a little tough exterior to you, just to survive. I think underneath all dancers are soft. But on the outside you appear a lot tougher than you really are. Just because you have to [to] survive and get anywhere in the business. It's a hard business for the females in dance. Now if my husband . . . he probably wouldn't agree with me or most of the men wouldn't, they'd say it's hard; it is hard for the men, too. I mean they  . . . it isn't easy for them, but it's just not the same as with the women because there are just so many women. And you have no kind of guarantees.
     It's funny because I was talking today, I was showing an album, and I turned to one page and it was full of my dogs, and I said to the young lady I was showing it to, "Oh, these are my dogs. You know dancers have animals instead of babies." Well, in our day, you couldn't have babies because you couldn't take the time to be away. You weren't guaranteed that you would have a place in the company if you wanted to come back. And you didn't earn the kind of money that they earn now. So, if you had a child, it would have meant I would have to quit dancing, or my mom would have to raise my babies. So I made that sacrifice to dance, rather than to raise a family. We couldn't have afforded it.
     Now if you're a principal dancer, you make enough money that maybe you can hire a nanny or someone to really help, come along with you and raise that child. And they don't tour like we did. We wouldn't have had room for a nanny on that bus. We had . . . every seat was taken. And so it just was not possible at the time to really have a family. And when I think about it now, of course, I'm disappointed, now at this age of my life, to not have a child, but when I made the decision, I think I made the right decision for myself. I remember Katherine Hepburn always saying, "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." And I think she's right. It's very rare that someone has children and has a career, too. Something has to suffer along the way, I think. And dancing for me has always been the most important thing in my life.
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a dancer?
A: I think . . . my mom says as soon as I learned to walk -- that I was dancing around the house always. You know I went to dancing by myself, my mother didn't take me to dancing. As it turned out, where we lived there was a dancing school four doors away. And I'd always see all these kids going into this basement, and I wondered what was going on there. So one day I wandered in. And here they were dancing, and I was just fascinated. And I would come every day after school and sit there and watch this lady teach until she stopped teaching in the evening.
     My mom worked so my dad let me be pretty free. And so I would just watch all evening long until she stopped teaching. And one day she just went and called me in. I had watched so much I picked up right away. I was very loose, very limber and everything. I did everything like 1-2-3 and that was it. And my mother never took me to dancing; or was even interested, you know; [she] didn't think that that was any career for a person. So I pretty much did dancing by myself. With my mother, I must say, she worked two jobs to help me stay in dancing to pay for toe shoes and money to come downtown and to have a sandwich, and buy my practice clothes, and keep me in toe shoes, because I went through shoes like water. And, so, in that sense, she did, my parents did help me a great deal, but they were always saying, "Oh, you've got to go to typing school, you've got to go learn a trade, you've got to have a trade. Dancing is a nice hobby, but it's no way to make a living." But I surprised them and made a living doing it.
Q: It must have been hard to stop performing.
A: The worst. That was the hardest thing. That was really hard to stop. But you have to go on. And you do. Now I teach, and there are lots of wonderful young kids, and so I've gone on, actually. I've graduated.
Q: Were you there on the tour when Ruth stopped performing?
A: Yes, I was.
Q: Tell about that.
A: Well, we were fairly young, so we didn't even realize how difficult that must have been for her. But I remember we were in San Francisco, as I remember, and she just decided to stop dancing and she never did dance again, after that. That place in San Francisco . . . . I don't really know why she decided there to stop, but she did. We were doing a wonderful ballet that I wish she would revive; I've talked to her about trying to revive it, Barber of Seville [Susanna and the Barber]. And she had a really cute part in it. She spoke in the ballet and was just adorable in the role, and she just one day trained another dancer to do her part and just never really performed again.
     She, in a funny way, she did perform, because when we started doing these lectures and things, she spoke and was on the stage while we danced and everything. So she was really a part of performing herself. And she never did really dance again on the stage. But, of course, she danced when she taught us ballets, showed us ballets and things.
Q: What was the process? Did Ruth work out her choreography on you? I mean you must have been one of the people with whom . . . . What was, can you describe what that process is like? The working out of choreography between a ballerina and a choreographer.
A: I think it's probably the most interesting part of dancing because . . . .
Q: I'm sorry, Dolores, could you start again "Working out the choreography between a ballerina and a dancer is I think the most interesting and that's . . . ."
A: Okay. I think the working out of choreography between the choreographer and a dancer is one of the most interesting parts of dance. Because she comes up with a step, and then she teaches it to you, and then you put your personality or your style or your interpretation on it. And sometimes she . . . they'll like it. And they'll feed off of that and it will make them come up with another step or another idea, another move because of the way you've done it. And then you just keep feeding off of each other if you . . . if it's compatible.
     Now, some choreographers don't work that way. They come in with their choreography, they teach you the steps, and they want it done exactly as they are teaching it to you. They don't give you any leeway. And then there are other choreographers, like Miss Page, that are much freer in the way they are going about it, and you feel that you are much more involved with the creation part of it, which is the most wonderful part of it, the creating of a ballet or anything. And so with her it was really a wonderful process. Although there were days where she wasn't coming up with ideas and whatever, you would show, you know, when you would show her some of her steps or what she had showed you . . . that she didn't like the way you did it, and she didn't like the way you looked. Oh, so you'd go away and come back and start over on another day, and fresh ideas and things would gel.
     I remember one funny incident was when we first started working with her, the union did not have a strong hold, and there were no breaks. You didn't get a break. I mean, we would just go until she got tired, and then we'd sit down and have a rest or anything. Well, the union rules came in, and at that time you had to have five minutes every hour. Well, sometimes she was choreographing and was really what we call "hot" -- ideas were coming and flowing and everything was moving along -- and she didn't want to stop. And somebody would come up to her and say, "Miss Page, excuse me, but we have to have five minutes now." And she would really get upset that it had stopped. And she'd go, "Oh, well, all right, if you have to have those five minutes," and she'd sit down. And you could just see how upset she got that she had to stop.
     But, on the other hand, we all could understand how annoying that was when everything was working and ideas were coming and you were rolling along and making progress to have to stop to take five minutes to rest. When we really weren't that worn out that we needed the five minutes. But then on the other hand, there were times when you were glad that you had the break. Course, that's how we all started, you know, smoking -- those five minute breaks, that's when lots of people started to smoke. Because you had that time and there was nothing to do. But, I don't know. I think now that we're used to it, I think it's good to have little breaks in there. I don't know if when you're choreographing . . . and when you choreograph on principals, they don't necessarily make choreographers stick to those union rules. You know, it's mainly when you're working with large groups of people like corps de ballet that they really want to have that time . . . .
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