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Orrin Kayan - Patricia Klekovic No.5 [July 3, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0598
Run Time
0h 14m 44s
Date Produced
July 3 1985
A: [Describes a house in Italy were he and Ruth Page stayed] . . . They were built in the form of a medieval tower. And I had five keys that were about this big [indicates] -- this big, old . . . . I think the thing must have been built in around the late 1500s or something. And it was   . . . some man of exquisite taste owned this place. Beautiful pieces in it. And each time we wanted to go from one room to another room, we had to go outside, lock that door, go up a flight of stairs, unlock that door and then we'd be in that room. And I think on the bottom level was this fantastic kitchen that had none of the conveniences of anything I've ever seen in my life. It had a pump handle for water and there was a burner . . . this great big, enormous fireplace that you really could have pushed the Wicked Witch of the West in. And I used to bring Ruth her coffee every morning, because she couldn't figure out how to work that thing to save her life. So, I would bring her coffee in bed, and she said that that was the greatest time she ever had in her life. [Laughs] But it was a beautiful place. André was there at the same time, and he found it marvelous to paint there. Did some beautiful sketches of the countryside -- Umbria and Spoleto.
     And then she went to what was Gian Carlo Menotti's because we were . . . in connection with the festival. And she went to a marvelous party and she was so excited because he has this fantastic palazzo there . . . and she went to this party and she told me, she said, "I am so excited because I am going to meet Ezra Pound." And I said, "Oh, Ruth. I can't wait to hear about this one. So, she came back finally and she said, "I've never had a worse time in my life." She said, "They sat me next to Ezra Pound and he looked like he was dead." She said, "This old skeleton was sitting there, and every time I asked him a question or tried to talk to him, he grunted at me." She said, "All I got out of meeting Ezra Pound was a lot of grunts and that was it." She couldn't get anything. And if you can't talk to Ruth Page, you can't talk to anybody. Because she is a brilliant conversationalist. And lots of fine people were there. A lot of her old friends: Bucky Fuller -- Buckminster Fuller -- was there, and he was an old friend of hers; Isamu Noguchi came in to visit her and she hadn't seen him in a long time and that was marvelous. She screamed when she saw him because he surprised her . . . she didn't know he was there. So, that was a lot of fun. That was another experience with these wonderful people. Italy -- Europe is a wonderful place to go and meet different people. And I think Ruth is influenced a lot by Europeans and Europe itself. She's got a very European mentality in a lot of ways for being as American as she is.
Q: What do you mean?
A: There's a . . . a freer outlook, I think, on a lot of things. You know, where we would be shocked at her thinking to take her clothes off, they don't bat an eye, you know. And I think a lot of that has influenced her. But she is wonderful.
Q: Thanks.
A: Your welcome.
Q: So are you wonderful. You're terrific Orrin.

[Interview with Patricia Klekovic starts at 04:40.]

Q: Tell me about the first time you met Ruth Page.
A: The first time I met Ruth Page was when I auditioned for her company right after I got out of high school. It was just a frightening experience, and I was very lucky because I got into the company. But she was very nice. She was very sweet and very understanding, even though I slipped and fell down when I did my variation. I was really surprised that she took me, but I think that I had friends in the company that kind of told her I wouldn't always fall down.
Q: And then you started out in the corps de ballet in 1956.
A: Right.
Q: So you started in the corps de ballet in 1956, and then what?
A: Well, I was also studying at Edna McRae's at the same time. And Miss Page was nice enough to let the dancers in Chicago study with their own teachers in the morning and come to rehearsal after, which was really great because we were still kind of young and just getting out of school. And it was just like a new experience working with her, because her ballets were so different from the regular classical straight stuff that I had learned, and the straight character that I had learned.
Q: In what ways were they different?
A: Well, I don't remember what we did first, I loved the operas because they were kind of fun. You know, you were like part of the whole thing, and you got to see all the wonderful opera stars and dance in all the different operas and be different things; [in] every opera you were a different kind of person. But when she did her El Amor Brujo, it was something that I had never done, kind of wild gypsy sort of "Spanishy" . . . sort of Ruth Page, and I had never done anything like that before. It was the first time that she almost made me cry, because I couldn't count some of the things. And Miss McRae made us count like that in class all the time, you know, we were supposed to know what we were doing. And she made me get out in front of the whole company and do the steps and count it. And I couldn't. And it was so foreign to me, but I did it.
Q: But you did.
A: I did it. I was so scared I did it. And I didn't cry, which made me very happy, because I was so embarrassed. But when you're that young and all the other people were kind of used to her way of moving and way of working -- I learned fast. And I loved it ever since. It was really fun.
Q: Was she tough?
A: Well, I guess some people might say she was tough. I didn't think of her as tough, because I had a tough teacher -- a loving teacher, but a tough teacher. I mean you'd go into class shaking because you were afraid you'd do something wrong. Miss Page was very nice and very understanding. Sometimes she would say things off the top of her head that might hurt your feelings, you know, like saying, "Oh, my God, you're fat! Did you eat too much today? You just blew up," and then she'd forget about it and was real nice. But I never thought of her as being tough, you know, a real somebody that just said, "You have to do it that way" all the time. And she, if things didn't work out quite right, she would change. She didn't . . . . Other people might have found her differently but, even coming up working with the corps de ballet and then on into working with her as a principal, I enjoyed working with her, because she was willing to listen to what you had, what you felt. She might not agree with you and wouldn't let you do it, but at least she'd listen. And I liked that a lot.
Q: How long were you with Ruth's company before you became a principal dancer?
A: Oh, I'd have to count back.
Q: I mean approximately.
A: Approximately, I started with her when I was seventeen. I started to do solo work about five years later -- slowly. And then, it was like a big jump and there I was. And it was great. Everybody left the company at the same time, and I was the only one there so I got it. One of those freak things. And I got to dance with Kenneth Johnson, who had been the star all the time. And it was really great for this little girl to come out and be able to dance with this man, who was partner to all the ballerinas. And we became a partnership after that and danced together for the rest of Ruth's company, and then after that.
Q: You really were her prima ballerina.
A: Yes. And she made me a prima ballerina. I mean, I was her kind of dancer. Whether people liked the way I danced or didn't like the way I danced, I was a Ruth Page dancer.
Q: What do you mean, Pat? How would you describe a "Ruth Page dancer"?
A: Well, it was the kind of dancing I really wanted to do. It's like the difference between seeing Theme and Variations and seeing Fall River Legend. I was the Fall River Legend-type, the dramatic. You danced because you were doing something dramatic. You weren't out there going: this is my technique and I'm perfect. Because I wasn't perfect, and I knew I wouldn't be perfect. So you kind of had this thing, if you want to call it "hide behind," but it really wasn't. It made you not worry so much about the technique because it was coming through the story line. And that's what I like so much about her work.
Q: Why do you think Ruth chose you? You don't really believe and nobody would really believe that everybody else left and you just inherited it. Come on.
A: It was true. Barbara Steele had been her ballerina and she had just decided to retire, and a girl that she had been grooming went to Ballet Theatre, and Dolores had gone off to New York for a year, and it just all happened at the same time. And I was there and she started to work with me, and it just, you know, it kind of went together. I think she enjoyed working with me as much as I enjoyed working with her.
Q: How did you feel . . . you danced all the major Ruth Page roles.
A: All except in Revenge. I never did Azucena. And she always said, "I might revive it so that you could do the part," but we never got a chance to do it again. The company folded.
Q: How did you feel, Pat, when occasionally guest artists would come in and be dancing your roles.
A: Probably the way anybody else feels. It would really depend. Now, most of the time it was understood when she did Merry Widow -- while I wasn't in that position yet, I started helping her when she did Camille -- some of it was set on me and some was set on Etta Burro. You knew it wasn't being done for you. You were having it set on you for somebody else, and then maybe you would get a chance to do it sometime. So that wasn't too bad. The only time that I ever really felt funny about something like that and really talked up for myself was with her Romeo and Juliet. She did it for Kenneth and I, and she asked us if we would do it. And then she wanted someone else to do it on tour, and then I said, "You did it for me and I want to dance it." So she let me dance it. We alternated, but I got more performances than the other people. But it was mine: she did it for me. And it's a whole different thing than if you're dancing for somebody else and you know they're going to come in and do it and that maybe next year you'll get to do it. But when something is done for you . . . , that's when you want to stand up and fight.
Q: Talk about the process of having a ballet set on you. What do you mean? I mean what was the process in working out the choreography, how do you do that?
A: Well, in those days, she would kind of show you what she wanted, and then you would try to assimilate what she wanted. Now, a lot of her things we gave funny names to because they weren't exactly . . . they were ballet steps, but not really ballet steps. They were something she created because she is very creative. And she'd do them, and then we'd try them, and if they felt good, it worked out. If she didn't like the way we looked, then she'd try
something else. And then, like I say, it's different. If it was being done for you, that's when you felt like you could say, "I don't feel like that, this feels awkward to me. If I'm going to have to dance it, it doesn't feel right." And she would say, Why? and you'd explain it to her and then she would say, "We'll try it your way, we'll look at it your way and see." And sometimes she would let it go your way.
     There was one funny story about Camille. Everybody naturally loved, wanted to do
Camille, because you, you know, die in your lover's arms and all that sort of thing. We hadn't done anything like that before. And we had gotten to the end, and she decided that she was going to do a different kind of ending -- more spiritual. So you were going to go away from him and pray and then die. And we went, "Aaagghh, you can't do that! You've got to die in your lover's arms. You just can't go and pray and fall on the floor and die!" And we kept working on it and working on it. And she didn't like what we wanted to do, and we didn't like what she wanted to do, and finally our pianist looked up from the piano and said, "Die, damn it, die!" We compromised. She got her ethereal feeling, and we got the death in the arms. If you've seen it: she finishes, he lifts her up in the air, and she slowly collapses and dies, and he brings her down. So it went together. That was one of the funniest.
Q: Out of all the Ruth Page roles you danced, which one is your favorite?
A: I've got two: Juliet and Carmen. One on each side. Those are my favorites.
Q: Why?
A: I guess. Well, I did Carmen first. Carmen, because nobody thought I could do it. Because they said, You're the Micaela type, Micaela was done for you, you're sweet and innocent and you can't do Carmen. And she let me understudy it, thinking I would never get to do it. But Sonia Arova called and said she would be a few weeks late for the beginning of the season. And Miss Page came to me and said, "Now, you don't have to do it if you don't want to, darling, I know how hard it is for you." And I said, "I want to do it." And she worked with me on it. Kenneth worked with me on it. And there was a lot of tears, but I really wanted to do it and showed them that I could do something besides just being the sweet, innocent thing all of the time. And she liked me. Her husband called me "Carmen of the legs." He thought that I danced with my legs. That the legs told the story. Different people see different things. My mother hated me in it. She said I looked like a skinny blond in rags. And I was so crushed, because that was one of my favorite roles and I thought my mother doesn't appreciate what I can do. She apologized and said, "Well, you did, you looked like a skinny blond in rags."
Q: Did you have a ballet mother, Pat?
A: No. My mother started me because of an aunt that said her daughter was a singer, and she said, "It's very good for your child to have this kind of discipline," and you know all that sort of thing. So my mother took me to a neighborhood school, and then eventually I loved it and I went and studied with Edna McRae. She never pushed. In fact, at one point she said, "Do you really want to do this? You know how hard this is going to be. And I don't know if I want this for you." And I said, "After you got another job so that I could take classes, you don't think I'm going to fight for this now?" And she's happy now, but she said she was really happy when I got married. She wanted me to be happily married. And I waited a long time. And at first she thought marriage was more important than dancing. But she did enjoy coming to see me dance. My worst critic was my mother. But she enjoyed it.
Q: Did your husband . . . . I had just asked you whether or not your husband was involved in the world of ballet at all?
A: Yes, he is.
Q: Start out by saying, "My husband . . . ."
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)