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Orrin Kayan No. 04 [July 3, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0597
Run Time
0h 20m 33s
Date Produced
July 3 1985
A: Ruth was a famous hostess and 1100 Lake Shore Drive was a wonderful place to have parties. Well, her new place is no slouch either, but 1100 had marvelous memories. Well, first of all, I'm going to mention Tom Fisher, her husband, who I thought was a wonderful man. He was so bright, so intelligent, so sharp. He was such a complementary host to her hostess. And we had parties there with lots of big opera stars and lots of big ballet stars, and the food was always wonderful, and she always played wonderful music, and we danced. Those parties ended up going well into the night because nobody ever wanted to leave. They just were great. She had a wonderful maid at the time named Felissa. I love Mexican food, and she always cooked these wonderful enchiladas and tacos and things. And they were just super.
Q: She always had one at the end of the season . . . .
A: She had one . . . she usually had one right around Christmas time and she had one at the end of the season. And we always got to dress up and look our best, and it was such a beautiful, elegant apartment. Beautifully decorated. We had a lot of fun. It was just dancers having a good time with her and Tom. That's how it always worked out.
Q: What special memories or anecdotes do you have that you remember about Tom?
A: One of my favorite times when I think I really got to know Tom and appreciate him and his point of genius really, was when I went to Spoleto. She had invited me to come -- not Spoleto, St. Tropez. She had a marvelous little house there. And she invited me to come and so I did. Very hard to get there. Not an easy place to get to at all. And they met me, and Tom was just so charming and wonderful. He asked me if I . . . I asked him about getting a haircut, I heard that French haircuts were so marvelous. So he said, "I have a wonderful barbershop I'll take you to." So we dropped Ruth off and she said, "As long as you're getting your hair done, I'll get my hair done." So I went with Tom, and Ruth went to the beauty parlor. And Tom introduced me to the barber and all this. When we came back out after we finished, we came out and met Ruth. And Tom said, "Well, Ruth, I've just scandalized us." And Ruth said, "Tom, what do you mean?" And he said, "They all think that Orrin is my boyfriend." And we just laughed. We had the best time there. We went to some wonderful beaches. Had beautiful dinners up in the mountains.
Q: What was life like there?
A: Oh, very laid back. Very laid back. And it was a class of people that I had never met up until that time. I guess I must have been about 25 or so when I went to St. Tropez. And I met baronesses and marchionesses and whatever all the titles were. And Ruth had this wonderful studio there, and she was wanting to work. And the atmosphere was not very conducive to work in. Really, I wanted to go to the beach. She had a lot of trouble getting me to work. I thought I was on vacation, and she was going, No, no, no, no. And I think that she was just thinking about starting Carmina Burana when we were there. And she wanted to start working some of that stuff out, some of those steps. And I kept saying, "Well, Ruth, really now, you know if we do a short class and a short rehearsal and get it over with, then I'll play with you on this stuff a little bit." And she said, "Damn you, darling, you never want to work." But we did. We got a lot of things started over there.
Q: You did a class every day up there?
A: Yes, as long as she could drag me into the studio every day. I didn't want to, I wanted to play. Beaches were beautiful. It was a fun place.
Q: After Tom's death, how did Ruth change?
A: When Tom was dying, Ruth was setting Romeo and Juliet. And Tom had that horrible disease, and he got weak, and he lost control of his muscles. And I'll never forget, she took a little poetic license with Romeo and the ending -- when after Romeo had taken the poison and Juliet came back to life. Romeo was not dead so there was a final moment between them, and when she gave the directions to -- I guess it was Patty that she was setting it on -- Patty Klekovic, she said, "Now, at this point you must realize" -- I'm not going to be able to say this without crying -- "you must realize that the man that you always depended on and held on to for support, can't do it anymore." Every time I think about that . . . and there she was losing this man that had meant so much to her. It's very sad.
Q: But she picked up and carried on.
A: She was stronger than some of us were about it. She knew it was coming and she steeled herself for it. And she just somehow accepted it. And when he finally died, she just said, "I am now a widow, and that's how I shall have to learn to live." And she's a strong lady.
Q: The business side of things which Tom had always handled, Ruth took it over?
A: Everything that Tom had done for her, I don't think she was too aware of what all was involved. And the business side of it, we didn't even see that much of. Luckily, I guess, she got some very good lawyers to help her through that stuff, and I think a lot of that was . . . how much longer did we tour after Tom's death?
Q: Just a couple years.
A: Just a couple more years. I think it got too hard for Ruth without him, because the complications of touring, it really is. I mean, imagine taking care of 40 -- however many we were -- 45, 49 people, with musicians and everything, and getting in the hotels and all that stuff. It's very complicated. Moving a company around, it's just not easy. And I think that just got to be really too much for her without him, to take care of a lot of those details.
Q: I know that you're close to Ruth, Orrin, but nonetheless we know you're honest, and sensitive -- very! What do you think, do you think of Ruth's place in the pantheon of American choreographers? Do you think it would have been different if she'd been working in New York?
A: Ruth as a choreographer, as an American choreographer, had some marvelously unique concepts, and I think we were good enough dancers to visual . . . to show her ideas, make them visual. I wonder if we hadn't been so individualistic, if we hadn't had so many ideas of our own, if she wouldn't have gotten more of her ideas across. Because sometimes we did stymie her. There were times when we just said, "Oh, that looks awful." You know, then you turn around and see it in the Balanchine ballet or something, and go, Whoops! -- you know -- Hmmm, maybe we should have let Ruth do that! It's a thought that enters my mind every once in a while: if we wouldn't have gone more in her direction, if they wouldn't have come out differently. But as it was, we did what we did; she did what she did; we worked together very well. And I forgot, we talked about the fights before. And she, for the most part, she got ideas across.
Q: Did you ever think about . . . . Did you ever think about going to New York?
A: I didn't think about it. I thought about going to Europe. And I did go to Europe. I was hired as a premier danseur with the Frankfurt Opera House. And it turned out to be a disastrous experience for me. They were a little -- I don't remember what year that was -- but they were rather anti-American, I thought. And I was just miserably unhappy. And finally, I just told them I wasn't going to stay, and I left and called Ruth and said, "You know I'm not very happy and I really would like to come back," because she had sent me with her blessing thinking it would be a great growth experience for me. And I came . . . I ended up coming right back and fell right back into it. New York I didn't think about going to until the company disbanded. And why didn't that work? I just . . . nothing happened.
Q: If you had to, Orrin, think about a way to describe Ruth's relationship to you, how you feel about her, would it be mother, older sister, aunt, something, what?
A: Best friend. She was a very close friend. She still is. She always described it as we were pals. And she loved my honesty, she loved that. She could ask me anything and I just, I'm almost incapable of lying, it's terrible. It's a real fault. And so I would always honestly tell her what I thought and what was happening.
Q: What do you think it is that keeps her going at this incredible pace?
A: The same thing has always kept her going, she's marvelous.
Q: What is it? What is inside of her?
A: She has enormous drive. She has ambition still. I think she has a very, very clear concept of herself. She knows who she is. She knows what she's done. She knows what she's doing. This school of hers is marvelous, and it's going to be a wonderful monument to her, I think. She's training . . . she has good teachers here. She's training some nice, nice talented dancers. We have turned out some beautiful dancers, who have gone to ballet companies. We're all very proud of them. And I think that she has such a zest for life, and a joie de vivre, and she just keeps going with it. She enjoys it so much. She always has a good time.
Q: Can you imagine life without her?
A: You're gonna make me cry again if I think about life without Ruth Page.
Q: Tell me a little more about your own transition from performer to teacher.
A: When I stopped . . . well, that was the Ben Stevenson years, and there was total turnover in the company. And Ben invited me to be ballet master for the then Chicago Ballet, which I did for two years and two nervous breakdowns, and decided that that really was not for me. And I was starting to teach more and more at that time. I felt that I wanted to get away from the whole performing end of it, and go totally into the teaching.
     Being involved with a performance and not being the performer didn't sit very well with me. I didn't feel . . . first, is why I would never be a company director or even, well, I'm not a choreographer, either. But I just felt that, once I stopped, once I got off that end, that side of the footlights, I wanted to stay away from the stage all together and not be involved. I don't mind coaching a role or teaching someone a part, something like that. I don't want to have anything to do with that, their performance, that's putting on their, you know, their show. I don't feel like it's in me. I'm not part of it somehow.
Q: What do you think the effect was on Ruth when she stopped dancing? You knew her while she was dancing and then after.
A: She didn't bat an eye. She was doing Susanna in Susanna and the Barber, which wasn't even that technical a role. I mean it was dancing around and a lot of talking; it had words. And she always spoke so marvelously. And I think that she . . . actually a review did come out saying that Ruth Page should step aside and give younger dancers a chance, and I think the minute she read that that was the end of it. I don't think she ever did it again. She took that one really to heart.
Q: Could you detect a change in her?
A: Not in the least. No. No, it just . . . she just obviously said to herself, Well, that's it. Finished.
Q: Tell me about Ruth backstage.
A: Oh, Ruth backstage is marvelous. She makes us -- used to make us -- very nervous, because there she was worrying about absolutely every single detail: your costume, your shoes, your tights, your hair, your makeup. She would say crazy things to us sometimes, like, "Darling, I hate you in this part." You know you're just about to go on and we'd go, "Oh, Ruth, thanks, I needed that." And out we'd go. I'm thinking, Well, I'll just have to make her love me, you know, and off we'd go.
Q: Tell me about the running around backstage naked, tell me about it.
A: Oh, can I say that on television? Ruth is very, shall we say, uninhibited and a naturalist at heart. And it never enters her mind when she takes her clothes off that she shouldn't. And there were some times when she was just wandering around back there, stagehands falling off ladders, you know, because she was always a beautiful woman. And she would just do it. I'll never forget . . . was it Ken? I think Ken once just grabbed a towel and held it in front of her, and she walked out from behind the towel saying, "What's the matter, darling?" It was very funny.
Q: Tell me about your own joys and satisfactions in teaching.
A: I love to teach. I feel when a student comes here to us . . . well, first of all they usually go through Patty. They start as children with Patty Klekovic. And then they . . . I get them when they're just coming into the intermediate level. And Patty trains them so beautifully, and then when they get to the intermediate level they have to learn the harder stuff and all the more complicated stuff. And then they leave me and go to Larry to the advanced class. I can feel the difference, you know. And there they go to Larry, and he loves them. You know, it's so much easier for him to work with them because he doesn't have to stop and teach them all the basics. They've got that rudimentary education from us. And then we see them after he's through with them, and they've got this finish and style and, oh, it's great. It's just the most rewarding feeling. That's the joy of a teacher. That's our applause, is when the kid you know becomes something. The pride you feel in that is just marvelous.
Q: Talent. Does talent stand out all over a student?
A: It's a funny thing because some of the kids that we look at, and you would say for instance, "Well their body is so wrong for dance. It's gonna be so hard for that poor little kid to pull all that if they're uncoordinated or something." And you never know. Suddenly they reach a certain age, and they go through the shift, and their body changes and their brains change. And they become another person. It's almost like a metamorphosis. That happens to the lucky ones. Some of them, we see little kids with this . . . enormous and they never change. Somehow their bodies don't do that metamorphosis. And even though they have all this facility, it just doesn't come together. And you can't tell which ones will and which ones won't. Some of the greatest dancers have been told that they should never dance. Lydia Abarca comes to my mind -- was told that she can't dance. What was her name? Lone, Lone Isaaksen, who was with Joffrey, was told in Denmark that she would never dance. Became a big ballerina. You can't tell sometimes. It's very tough to tell.
Q: Okay. Yes, I have one wrap up question. Which is: is there anything else I haven't thought to ask you?
A: You forgot to ask me about Spoleto.
Q: Spoleto.
A: We were in Spoleto, Ruth and I, with Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem. And she was staging an updated version of Carmen for the company. And that was fun. We had a marvelous set . . . medieval tower that Ruth had rented for our time there, which if we have time I'll tell you about. But it was very difficult to get together with the company and get any rehearsal time. And she was very frustrated by that. Delfau did the costumes and scenery for them, and I don't know what . . . he had trouble with them. They were fighting him. I don't know what their problem was at that particular time. It was . . . they weren't used to working with Ruth and with André, somehow.
Q: They were also so involved I think in getting some other things done.
A: They were doing a million other things. Yeah.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)