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Ruth Page Lunch w/ Ann Barzel No. 18 [April 1, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0516
Run Time
0h 19m 44s
Date Produced
April 1 1985
NOTE: This interview was conducted as an informal conversation. Consequently, instead of the usual Q (Interviewer) and A (Interviewee) format, questions and statements are identified by the initials of the participants: AB (Ann Barzel); RP (Ruth Page); TF (Thea Flaum).
[Interview begins at 01:48.]
AB: . . . The other funny thing was in St. Tropez, when this woman who was a part-time maid would bring in things. But the ratatouille we had, that big pot of ratatouille, we ate it for a week. We left some . . . .
TF: The meals at St. Tropez were good, even though Ruth wasn't cooking?
AB: We'd go out to eat. Poor Ruth was paying these bills. The price of things!
RP: Yes.
AB: Remember when John Neumeier and his friend turned up? I never saw the bill, but I saw loads of money going out.
RP: It's very expensive to eat out there, but I think it's more expensive to eat at home.
TF: I was asking you before about seeing Ruth dance. The first time you saw her, what did you think of her as a dancer, other than the fact of her feet? She is vain about her feet, it's true. She's said her feet are the only perfect things about her.
RP: That's true.
AB: She did two numbers. Adolph Bolm, who was the director of the Allied Arts and Ruth's teacher in New York, who brought her here to Chicago as the ballerina of the Allied Arts, did a ballet based on Degas [Foyer de la Danse]. you know, at the Art Institute. All these little nineteenth century ballerinas with their pink tutus, and it was a classroom situation, and Ruth was the ballerina. And she looked very lovely, and she did things one does. That's so satisfying that these are things I know. And her toe work is very lovely . . . .
     The Degas thing I think was one of the first things, then came divertissements, that is solos and pas de deux, and that's where The Flapper and the Quarterback was part of it. [It was at] the Eighth Street Theatre, which is now a parking lot for the Hilton Hotel. Not this particular program but later on, when Marie, Queen of Romania, came to Chicago, the important things that were going to be shown to her included the Allied Arts. She came to a performance . . . .
RP: I remember when she came, it was very exciting. But you know, my home in Indianapolis is a parking lot. I took somebody out to see it -- Larry Long. I wanted to show him when we were there, just for a few hours. I said, "I'm going to show you where I used to live." And it used to have great big beech trees with low branches, with ravines. It's a very rolly place. And we went out there, and all the ravines had been taken out; the beech trees had been cut down; and it was a parking lot! So, everything changes. Nothing stays.
AB: You mentioned Indianapolis. What was that James Whitcomb Riley thing you were connected with?
RP: Oh, the Memorial Children's Hospital?
AB: No, a performance of some kind.
RP: Oh, I don't know.
TF: I don't know either. You know he was a great friend of Ruth's father, James Whitcomb Riley.
AB: Was that the one that Oukrainsky came out for, and you were in it?
RP: Oukrainsky had nothing to do with James Whitcomb Riley.
AB: I know, but there was some kind of memorial and you danced.
RP: Could be. I don't know.
AB: I remember that in one of your books. Also talking about Indianapolis, your mother was very instrumental in the cultural scene there.
RP: Yes. Mother started the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra [sic] and the Indianapolis Matinee Musicale, because she was bored with Indianapolis and she liked music. So, she gave them plenty of music.
TF: She also gave them you, I think. Did you know Ruth's mother, Ann?
AB: No. But going back, I was always impressed at all the Doctor [sic] Lafayette Pages in your background. Do you know why they're named Dr. Lafayette Page? The Page family started in Virginia. He came to visit somebody. Is there a Lafayette now? Does your brother have . . . .
RP: My brother has a son, but he wouldn't take the name Lafayette because he said there were too many of them, and he didn't want to be called "Lafe." My father was always called "Fayette." And then it got to be "Lafe," and so I don't think there are any Lafayette Pages around now. Not that I know of.
TF: That's too bad.
RP: Yes, it is too bad.
AB: There are a lot of Pages and Fishers -- that very handsome Greek god that came to St. Tropez one night to look for Aunt Ruth.
RP: Oh, yes, Bill Brookfield. He is divine. Do you know Bill? He goes every place. He lived over at the school for a long time. He didn't know anything about dance, so of course, I took him every place with me. So now he's very au courant; he knows what's going on. And now he's already graduated from law school. He's not a young boy. I see him a lot though. He's very handsome.
TF: Whose child is he?
RP: Bill Brookfield? He's Tom's nephew's child.
TF: I did meet him. I met him over at the school, and he was in law school.
RP: I don't know what he's going to do now. He hasn't made up his mind. He wants to go out and see the world. He doesn't want to be just ordinary and just practice law. He wants to do something special. So I don't know what it's going to be. We'll see. He'll probably end up the way of all flesh, but I don't know.
TF: What advice are you giving him?
RP: I think he should take a year off and go around and see the world and see where he'd like to be; what law firm he wants to be in, if any. And that's a difficult decision. My husband was a lawyer, and he was in his father's firm, and he didn't want to be in anybody's firm. He wanted to practice law by himself. So he left and started his own business. But I don't know of any other lawyers who have done that.
TF: It's hard to do.
RP: Yes it is. So I don't know what he'll do. He'll get along though, I'm sure. He won't need Aunt Ruth's help, I don't think.
TF: Don't you think that he looks up to you because you're the member of the family, like Tom, who has had the courage to go her own way?
RP: I don't know. I don't know how he feels about me.
AB: Oh, yes. He was with a group of students who were doing walking tours. They weren't hitchhiking, but they were walking or taking trains, and he got very bored with them. He left them and he got as far as St. Tropez, and he asks his way to the "Crazy Grass" villa . . .
RP: Herbe Folle.
AB: . . . and Ruth was at the beach, and this poor bedraggled boy with blistered heels turned up looking for his Aunt Ruth.
TF: It was interesting in St. Tropez? People were never boring there?
AB: Oh, yes. We stayed there for a while. Actually, St. Tropez . . . Ruth never kept a guest book there. You'd have some wonderful names, wouldn't you?
RP: Yes, I wish I had.
AB: Some of the people that love to have a week in the Mediterranean would . . . .
RP: The Ellises made me a book. You know they stayed there for a while, and I wasn't there, and they made me a book with pictures of the house and everything, for which I am very grateful. Otherwise, I wouldn't have anything from St. Tropez.
AB: Who got the studio after you left? Probably the maid!
RP: I don't know. I have no idea . . . .
TF: Actually, the studio was being rented. She was never permitted to buy it.
AB: That was so funny. She bought this wonderful old house, thick walls -- and you realize why they were thick when you had the first mistral. But her maid owned a wine house across the patio. She wouldn't sell it, but she rented it to Ruth. You finish telling it.
RP: There's nothing much to tell. It was a lovely great big studio, and it had two bedrooms upstairs.
AB: Nice apartment. They had a full apartment upstairs.
RP: So that's where we put all our guests.
AB: It had a kitchen and a dining room.
RP: Yes, it had everything.
AB: But she would never sell to Ruth. So when Ruth left, she had this wonderfully improved wine house. The Clavés were wonderful neighbors.
RP: They certainly were.
AB: I've been there when there were 17 people for lunch. I love it. The maid would serve everybody, and then she'd sit down to eat.
TF: She'd eat with you?
AB: Part of the family.
TF: They still live there?
RP: Yes. In fact, they bought my house in Paris.
TF: And you said that he was using it to store his paintings. It seems a shame.
RP: Well, he doesn't want to live in Paris, and he needed someplace to put his paintings.
AB: We used it one week, remember?
RP: Yes.
AB: It's a lovely little, very narrow house in a strange little street that you have to go through a gate to get into. Then once you're there, it's big; beautifully done.
TF: Ann, I read that you were the new critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and you reviewed Ruth's The Bells. Do you remember The Bells?
AB: I certainly do. I even remember the Golden Bells, the Silver Bells, the Iron Bells and then the whole thing collapses.
RP: Gorgeous set.
AB: And they were going to do it at Mandel Hall the first time. Jerome Andrews did the Ghoul at first.
RP: The King of the Ghouls.
AB: And little Edith Allred did the thing with the ribbons. That's the Silver Bells. Bernice Holmes was supposed to do the Golden Bells, but hurt her ankle, and you went on at the last minute. And then Ballet Russe bought the ballet. They did it with Frederic Franklin . . . .
RP: And Danilova.
AB: Ruth always had a penchant for poetry. In fact, you did some wonderful dances with words in which you spoke poetry. I still remember the Lorca one.
RP: "Five in the afternoon. It was exactly five in the afternoon. A child carried a white sheet at five in the afternoon. The rest was death. And death alone at five in the afternoon." That went into Carmen somehow. I don't know how it got into Carmen. I did four different versions of Carmen, and that got into one of them.
AB: That was the period when you did The Long Voyage Home. Did you know she did a wonderful job in Eugene O'Neill's The Long Voyage Home? It was only one woman character. Was that WPA? It was a very fine production. And Ruth was the only female character in it. You were wonderful in it. It's about these sailors who want . . . .
TF: So Ruth was just acting. It wasn't dance?
AB: No dance in it.
RP: Where did we do it?
AB: Either the Great Northern or McVickers, one of those. I was impressed I remembered.
RP: She has a marvelous memory.
TF: This is the only time that I know of that Ruth, who is an excellent actress . . . .
AB: Actually, she was a real actress in her ballets. She never did abstract things. She always had to be something.
TF: In her ballets. But that's the only time that I know of her being in a straight play where she didn't dance. That's the first I've heard of her being in a play.
AB: The only one I know of. But she did. She always spoke so well. Like she did that series of poems, Hilaire Belloc and those.
TF: How did that strike you? You always liked innovative things.
AB: I like mixed media. I like everything. I like to sit and watch a class. I don't think any ballet has been made abstractly as good as a good class.
RP: I agree with you.
AB: I like dances with words. It's stupid to have everything alike. Like I recently went to a performance in New York. Three separate ballets, but at the end, I realized there was not one human emotion. There was nothing funny, nothing tragic, nothing romantic. Just a lot of steps, beautifully done to symphonic music.
RP: That's the style now, just to do steps.
AB: Moderns do it, too, not only ballet. Patterns. Repetition.
TF: It's interesting to me that in Ruth's ballets, and what she's . . . written about choreography, the dramatic component, the feeling was always important to you.
RP: Yes it was.
AB: Every good choreographer is versatile, has many different kinds of things. You did Love Song, which is romantic and academic; Frankie and Johnny, which has all sorts of . . . music hall, tap . . . .
TF: What do you mean when you said -- you nodded in agreement -- you said "that's right." You can get as much enjoyment or more enjoyment out of watching a good class?
RP: I love to watch class. I adore to watch class.
AB: I just came from four days of watching three classes a day.
TF: What do you see when you watch a class?
AB: All right. Two things. One is the dancers are dancing all the time. It's not like a class of, say, music where they just finger exercise. The teacher has to invent, or else he's done it in the past, combinations which are really pieces of choreography. And different dancers do each one. And then the next thing. Then you find somebody to watch. Like there was a young kid, I don't think he shaves yet, he's about 16 or 17, and I adopted him. He was wonderful to watch . . . great. People should never be embarrassed in a class with other people watching, because your eye catches the good one. The others can try what they want.
RP: And different teachers teach so differently, you know. Cecchetti did give the same combinations all the time. Every Monday it was the same. Every Tuesday, every Wednesday. And at the end of the class, he would give what he called temps à plaisir, where he's made up steps for you. But that's the only teacher I had that ever did it like that. The rest are creating all the way through, from the beginning barre to the end of class.
AB: Mr. Bolm was the most imaginative. He was bored with teaching, so he would make up very, very intricate things and go crazy.
RP: Yes, he was hard to follow.
AB: And intricate rhythms. He'd tell the pianist, "Give me 7-9-7-9-5." That was the number of counts.
RP: Yes, His class was very hard to follow.
TF: And Kreutzberg was the most unusual teacher.
AB: He was really different. His was more free -- "Follow me, girls!" I can't even analyze what I'm doing.
TF: You were here and working as a reviewer, and seeing everything that happened in Chicago, and I think everywhere in the country, maybe over the world, in terms of ballet . . . .
AB: Yes, I used to take the Greyhound bus everywhere.
RP: But she saw everything. You're right. I never knew anybody who saw as much. She's never missed anything.
TF: What is so special about Chicago ballet for you, because I've read of the things you've written about it, Ann.
AB: Well, Chicago, as in all the arts, if you go back to the '20s -- now, some things are before my time -- but you still read in the literature. You were aware of Ben Hecht, Maxwell Anderson. Adolph Bolm started the Allied Arts. Frederick Stock played new music. John Alden Carpenter was composing. The Art Institute was the first big museum that had bought Impressionists. There was always something very adventuresome in the air. There was the great period of the '20s. Poetry magazine, Margaret Anderson's Little Review. When WPA came, unlike New York -- which was having almost duels between ballet and modern -- everything melded. The Graffs represented modern dance, Ruth Page, ballet, and everything else. Everybody worked together, and created something out of that.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)