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Larry Long No. 02 [October 24, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0528
Run Time
0h 17m 59s
Date Produced
October 24 1985
A: We were talking about touring, and this is kind of an apocryphal story about the kind of places that we toured, and kind of why it's sad that this isn't possible nowadays. On one of the tours, one of the places that we went was Leadville, Colorado. At the time we went there, we knew nothing about Leadville, Colorado. It was just a name on an itinerary. Later, when the musical Unsinkable Molly Brown was produced, everybody learned that Leadville was the place where Molly Brown's husband, "Leadville Johnny Brown," made his great silver strike and got all the money that made Molly Brown such a character. Well, we went to Leadville. And we were playing actually in a high school, but there was a little opera house, a tiny thing, which we visited. It wasn't used any more. It was kind of closed, and it was dusty and it was, oh, dilapidated, but nicely dilapidated. And finding out that there . . . when we got there we found a poster, saw posters, that were up. And guess who had been there before us to this little opera house -- Anna Pavlova! Now, most likely Anna Pavlova was the last person who was there before us.
     That's the kind of thing, the experience, that we had on those tours. And that's the kind of thing that's almost too bad that it's not possible to do now. If you can imagine, that of all of the weird places in the tiny, small little places that we went to, a good many of them we were the first ballet that had been there, but probably in fully half of those bizarre little tiny places we were the second company, Pavlova having been the first. It shows you something about Pavlova and something about Miss Page as well. There's a certain kind of kinship there that's more real than imagined. But it's that kind of thing [that] isn't possible any more.
     I remember everybody used to think, "How is it possible for us to tour the way we did?" They were very long tours, and every year Miss Page would somehow strive to make a new production for us. I found out later, when my association with Ruth became a little closer, I found out, for example, that since we toured with Community Concerts, we toured under a guarantee. Well, she and Mr. Fisher -- probably Mr. Fisher more, because he was a real business man -- made sure that the company cost just a little bit less than our guarantee for six performances a week, so that the excess over seventeen, eighteen weeks was enough to pay for the following year's new production. And it worked that way every single year.
     Every year Miss Page always had something new. Sometimes they were quite lavish, sometimes they were a little bit more modest. Although Miss Page was never modest in her scope. Never. But one tour always paid . . . . The little bit that was left over from expenses at one tour always went into the new production for the following year. Nowadays, companies are so enormous, first of all, that no company extant, probably not even Joffrey, who is the smallest of the big companies, could go and actually perform in the kind of places that we often had to. They certainly . . . [Ballet Theatre] could certainly never take four acts of Swan Lake, or Romeo and Juliet, or La Sylphide, or God knows what to the Leadville Central High School. It wouldn't be possible.
     The whole thing is . . . the whole scene, tours, and especially the economical scene, has changed so enormously. Now we're in the process of hiring dancers for Nutcracker, as you might know, for our annual Nutcracker in McCormick Place. And we hired principal dancers and some soloists from companies all over the United States and Europe. Well, it's very difficult for us to get dancers from American companies now. Because, for example, the dancers in Joffrey Ballet are used to getting their salary, plus $85 a day per diem. Well, when we were touring there was no such thing. Per diem was a mythical animal. Hadn't been invented yet. It's that kind of thing about the whole situation, dance situation. It's just changed so drastically that it wouldn't be possible for any company to do quite the way we did. Although it is a shame, because there's a lot of little places around there who had a taste of it at least twice -- once with Anna and once with Ruth -- who haven't had it since. Yes. They must be very hungry by now.
Q: You know what always struck me about all of this -- the ballets for the tours and the ballets that Ruth would choreograph knowing that you did go places like Leadville, Colorado -- and yet Ruth would go ahead and choreograph operas, Bolero, things that were . . . it was as though she never choreographed down to her audience whatever.
A: Ruth choreographed as though she were choreographing for the Paris Opera, for Paris or London or Madrid or Barcelona. I mean, she didn't choreograph for Leadville. She just choreographed like she was choreographing for the most incredible company, for the most incredible opera house, in the biggest capital of the world.
Q: And yet it worked.
A: It worked, without a doubt it worked. I think it worked. I think people, when they saw Ruth's company, realized they were seeing something that was totally and 100% unique. I think they were seeing something they could very easily have seen at the . . . in Paris or London. Her whole approach was like that. She often said -- and I think she probably reflected in her work -- that every performance, no matter what -- Beeville, Texas, didn't matter. Las Vegas, New Mexico -- not Nevada, New Mexico.
Q: Right.
A: Yes, right, big difference. It didn't matter. "This is the most important performance of your career. This is the most important performance of the tour." "Somebody" was coming. Somebody she met in the lobby of the hotel who wanted to know what she was doing in this town. This is the most important, so-and-so is coming. And that reflected in her work. Each ballet was the most important ballet that she had done. And she gave it that much consideration, that much effort and time and care, consideration for everything about the ballet. The tiniest detail was tremendously important. There wasn't anything that was just taken for granted.
Q: Can you describe the process, the mounting of a new ballet as you experienced it as a member of the company? With, I don't know, Fledermaus or Merry Widow, or any new ballet . . . . I mean, how, what would be the first thing, and how would it get put into the repertoire?
A: Every year, when we would come back, there would be . . . speculation would be rife. What's going to be the new ballet? Sometimes, rarely, we'd have a hint from the end of the tour before what the new ballet was going to be. It might be oblique, something said just kind of en passant in the bus, that would give you a hint; well, maybe it's going to be this, and maybe it's going to be that. So when everybody assembled every September at the Opera House, it would be: what's the new ballet going to be? Does anybody know? Do you have any idea? So it was very . . . always very exciting. What was it going to be like? Was there going to be a place for me? Was I going to get to do something special? Was it ? And it was always very shortly after that, that we got the hint of what it was going to be.
     Ruth would start playing around with little ideas. She always started working with material. Which is very much like modem dancers do now. It's a very kind of avant-garde way of working now. Ruth always worked that way. She would do what's called building material --  movement ideas, steps put together, in no particular relationship to one another, or not long sequences, just kind of building up like word pictures, only with movement. Just constantly adding and adding and adding, until finally when she would get -- she worked always in collaboration with an orchestrator, an arranger, Issac Van Grove -- until finally she'd get probably the first draft of the [musical] idea that they had discussed from him. A real kind of musical form of how it was going to go together. And then she'd start arranging this movement material that she'd been working on, and all of a sudden you saw a light at the end of the tunnel somehow. You saw how things were going to come along. Then, at that point, you'd actually get what the story was, if it was from an opera, if it was Die Fledermaus. You'd begin to . . . you'd be told, "This is Die Fledermaus and this is what's going on." Or Carmina, or Carmen, or Camille. Then you'd be told. Up 'til that time, she'd just been playing with things, kind of in a void. You didn't really have an idea of what she was going for, where it was all leading.
But now you would.
     At that point then, she would start systematically building up the ballet. Not always in order. She didn't always start right at the beginning and just kind of go boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, right to the end. But you began to get an idea of how the whole thing was going to go. And of course, the more rehearsals would go on, the more material would be added, the clearer the outline of the ballet, the clearer the form the ballet was actually going to take. She was always very, very deceptive. In a way, she always had little surprises for you.
     I remember when we were doing Camille. She sketched out in movement form the opening scene of Camille. She'd done some of the pas de deux. The more kind of straight forward parts of the ballet had kind of emerged, you know, kind of gurgled up from her innards. Then, all of a sudden, she started putting together this kind of, I don't know how you'd call it, kind of a collage of weird movement images, grotesqueries, in a way. And you couldn't forget. . . now wait a minute, I know the story of Camille, I know the [story. I've] done Traviata . . . where I don't understand this. And she wouldn't bother to explain it to you. It wasn't . . . she didn't feel the necessity, but you had to know everything about her thought processes as she was going on.
     Well, it turned out when the ballet was actually put together that this was a dream sequence. This was toward the end of the ballet when Camille is lying dying in her bed and she has all of these . . . there is supposedly a carnival. It's Lent on the streets of Paris and it's carnival time, and all of these people in weird costumes and revelers are out on the street, but they all intrude in her bedroom and take on these kind of fantastic proportions. And mixed in with this group of almost sinister figures from the streets and from her imagination are flashbacks to Armand's father, and his sister who's getting married, and Armand himself, and all the people who had a place in the ballet all come back. And all of a sudden you realized that Ruth was kind of creating a surreal world, and it had real shaping and a place in the ballet. But at the time it was being done, you had no idea of what she was going for. And it was very, very exciting, because your mind just went completely berserk trying to second guess her, trying to figure out where this is going. And, of course, she always had a place to go.
Q: Why didn't you ask? Why didn't somebody say, "Ruth is this for Camille? What is this for?"
A: Well, I don't know, but . . . for that particular ballet perhaps someone did ask. I didn't because it was my first year in the company. And I didn't presume to ask anybody anything. Secondly, I thought I must be just so stupid. I must be the only idiot in the company, and she's hired me out of good graces and you know.
Q: After five auditions.
A: Right, after five auditions. And finally, I could do a handstand, and I got hired, and it was, you know, she probably is doing this like one buys Easter Seals just to be good to the crippled. And you know, I just thought everybody must know where this is going, and I didn't. So, I just assumed that it was my own ignorance, you know. So, it's possible that somebody did. Later, when I knew her better and had worked with her longer, it was possible to ask her things. And yet even so, somehow you'd . . . there were a lot of times that I would have liked to. I would have loved to have asked her all kinds of things. Particularly when . . . there was a time when I was interested in doing choreography myself. And there were times when I would have loved to ask her any number of things about the art of choreography, and how to do it. And somehow I just didn't. I just didn't.
     She was always very, very engrossed. In rehearsal, she was never frivolous. There was never, never a bunch of joking. It was very serious work to her, and you just somehow hesitated to kind of intrude on her process, you know. I did ask her things at times but was always kind of careful about doing it.
Q: And then she didn't hang out with the dancers? I mean . . . .
A: No, no. Ruth, now, you know . . . dance is very democratic, you know. If a director, for example, doesn't come out and have a beer with the boys afterwards, well, he's a kind of snob or something like that. It's become very democratic. Ruth wasn't that way at all. Ruth was tremendously friendly and very interested in you, but you never forgot your place, and she never really forgot hers. She was Ruth Page. She was the director of the company. She had tremendous responsibilities. And she was very social on the appropriate occasions. But what you never . . . she wasn't one of the "guys," you know. She wasn't one of the "kids." She was really . . . .
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)