dontate now

Join Email List

Facebook  Become a Fan on Facebook
twitter  Follow Us on Twitter

329 West 18th Street Suite #610
Chicago, Illinois 60616
(312) 243-1808

Search Collections

André Delfau Interview No. 02 [October 24, 1985]

Bookmark and Share
Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0534
Run Time
0h 18m 5s
Date Produced
October 24 1985
Q: Would you talk about the influence of Diaghilev on the art, the design of modern ballet.
A: Yes, yes, you were saying that the greatest artists of our time have made designs for ballet, but before Diaghilev it was unthinkable. I mean, nobody would think of that [before]. It was Diaghilev.
Q: And everybody, I mean Picasso, Miro . . . .
A: Yes, everybody. Matisse . . . the people who were very far from any . . . Roualt was a mystical painter. He used them, and it was his stroke of genius. I mean, to use the art of his time on the stage, which was not thought about before. You see, it was just professionals, very talented some of them, but professionals doing their own thing.
Q: Absolutely. If you look at early drawings, really even before there were photographs of ballet productions, the scenery and the costumes, first of all, appear to have nothing whatever to do with each other. I mean there is no . . . .
A: There were different artists: one for the costume and one for the scenery.
Q: And the stuff is very pedestrian.
A: Yes. Sometimes it's very charming because it's the past, and it has a charm of something already gone, and it has good taste. And eighteenth century scenery and costume usually were lovely because they could not do bad things. It was a period of good taste, and the idea of everything was right. But it was never meant . . . oh, I think, Bouchet made some of something . . . .
Q: Bouchet?
A: Bouchet, yes.
Q: I didn't know that.
A: Yes, but anyway, it was a different world. The world of theater and the world of painters were two different worlds. And only when Diaghilev came, both worked well.
Q: Do you think that there's a special affinity between ballet and art? And painting?
A: Well, it's the human body.
Q: And that's what . . . .
A: The human body in motion and, of course, the human body in motion is an essential part of art in every civilization.
Q: Of course, so that would be the connection.
A: So you see?
Q: Now, in 1961 is when you met Ruth.
A: Yes.
Q: Tell how that happened.
A: Well, it was Skibine who gave Ruth my phone number in Paris. And she had seen some things I've made in Paris. She had a house in Paris at this period. And she called me and she said, "I'd love to meet you and to ask you to do a work for me." And so we met, and she asked me to do the Fledermaus, which was our first work together. And to do it, we went to St. Tropez. She has a house in St. Tropez. And it was very, very nice to live there with Tom Fisher and Ruth. Very friendly and very charming. And I worked there, and it all went very well.
Q: Now compare the working relationship with Ruth to some of the other relationships you had with the other choreographers that you've worked with. How was it different?
A: She knew very well what she wanted. And she was not vague about anything. I mean it was very, very clear. So it was very easy for me to work with her. It's more difficult when you have to work with somebody whose mind is not clear -- like Nijinska, who was a great artist, of course, and a great choreographer. But about costumes, there was nothing in her mind, and so when I made costumes for her, I had to redo it again and again to reach something which was not clear in her mind, you see. So it was difficult to reach, because it was not clear in her mind, in her own mind. So I had problems with her.
Q: But Ruth?
A: But with Ruth, not at all, because she knows exactly what she wants.
Q: And she's always loved costumes. I mean . . . .
A: Oh, yes. She has a great taste for that because she has a taste for theatrical ballet, and this . . . contrary to Balanchine, she gives a lot of thinking, a lot of importance to the scenery and the costume because she loves to tell stories.
Q: Now, when you first started working with Ruth that first summer at St. Tropez, did you have the sense then that this was going to become a major working relationship?
A: Not at all. Not at all. No. I thought it was very pleasant and very charming, and I found everything very nice. But I didn't think of the future. And the next year, and the year after when she came back, she asked me for another ballet. And then I took the habit to go to St. Tropez every year. Of course, I was making a lot of other things.
Q: Of course, during the rest of the winter, yeah.
A: Yes, yes.
Q: But when you were doing Fledermaus, was it difficult at first? I mean did you submit, did you make a lot of different sketches?
A: No.
Q: No?
A: No. She agreed immediately.
Q: Immediately?
A: Yes, yes.
Q: I get the feeling . . . .
A: But it was not for all the ballets like that. Sometimes I've more . . . . We had to reach an agreement on something, and it was not always easy.
Q: Sure. When I read Ruth's descriptions of her working relationship with you or in the development of a ballet, it sounds as though she would wait until the summer to really begin
thinking about a new ballet. And that she would really begin almost the choreographic process in conversations with you. She would write over and over, "André and I would discuss the ballet."
A: Yes, yes.
Q: What were those like? I mean what . . . .
A: Well, it depends on the ballet, you see. As I said, each time is different, the approach was different. And even with Ruth, each time we work together it was not exactly the same approach. Sometimes everything went well, and sometimes it was not so easy. I remember Carmina Burana. I had an idea of an abstract set of costumes, except for the beginning which has to be a king and prostitute. But after that I had an idea of abstract, and I made a lot of sketches in abstract combination of patterns and colors. But when she came back after one year, she said she felt that we should do it in a more figurative . . . .
Q: Representational.
A: Peasants, courtiers . . . . So, I had to redo it in a figurative way. Which was not a big problem.
Q: You didn't try to talk her out of it?
A: Oh, no, of course not.
Q: Even by then . . . because by then you had been working together for a long time, I know that Ruth also began turning to you almost right away to help design the costumes for the ballets that were part of the Chicago Opera.
A: Yes. And it was not like working for a ballet at all. And I never saw them on stage, of course, because I was not . . . .
Q: You were not there.
A: Yes. And so I don't know how they looked. But they had to adapt with sceneries that were not mine, of course; it was not like doing a ballet with Ruth.
Q: There are a couple of occasions . . . there's one I'm thinking of, for Tannhaüser, and you were doing costumes for the "Venusberg" scene. Tell about who made those costumes.
A: Well, they were supposed to be costumes of a faun and nymphs and things like that. And we thought -- because I put the men with more or less naked but with fur, pieces of fur -- and we thought of asking the ladies of Chicago to give some of their old fur coats, so we could work, and it was a big success. We received a lot of fur coats.
Q: And then there were some times when you would actually make the costumes at St.Tropez.
A: Yes, yes. No, most of the time, they were made in Paris.
Q: Oh, I know. But weren't there times when, just sort of in desperation to get something together for the opera, you'd go and buy some things, and you and Ruth would put them together.
A: Yes, sometimes, yes.
Q: Why did you agree to do that, André?
A: Hmmm. Because it was amusing.
Q: Combinations. Do you remember Combinations, Ruth's ballet with very, very abstract . . . it was really . . . .
A: Oh, yes, I remember. Yes. I never saw it on stage, but it was very amusing to do. With a lot of amusing ideas. There was a "phone" number.
Q: Yes, the phone.
A: People entangled with the phones. It was a very amusing ballet.
Q: But it was really a major departure from the sort of thing that Ruth ordinarily did -- from the story ballets or the opera-into-ballet ballets.
A: Oh, she was always open to new ideas and doing new things. Ballet made from operas was only a period in her life, you see.
Q: Of those ballets . . . in 1972 you did the Delfau Carmen. I suppose Ruth's done four Carmens. And that was really a difficult situation for the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
A: Yes. It has a terrible beginning. I came from Paris and it was a terrible rainy day and I was at the Plaza Hotel. I took a taxi to the place of the Harlem [Dance] Theatre. And this place was not only in Harlem, but very far in Harlem, where there are still eighteenth century Dutch houses and things like that. It was very, very far. And after a while in Harlem you have a kind of hill, and the numbers change and the names change -- it's something.
The taxi driver was an old Hungarian man . . . couldn't find this place, and he was stopping the taxi in the middle of the street and in the rain, and going to people in the street and ask them, and they don't know [the address]. And he comes back and we are going around, and I saw the taxi meter and finally I pay the man, and I went into the rain myself and found this place. But I was completely soggy, and I saw the costumes in there in big boxes, very big. And they were just opened. They had just come from Paris, and they were just opened, and all those dancers looking at those costumes like it was something very bizarre. And apparently, it was not a success, at all, with them. I think they have never worn this kind of costume, you see. It was at the beginning of Harlem Dance Theatre. It was more a Balanchine company, and they were either in tights or in tutus, but not in costumes. Anyway I had a lot of problems with it.
Q: Describe what your concept was for that Carmen.
A: It was Puerto Rican Carmen. Because in Puerto Rico you have bull fights, you have Spanish flavor and style, and you have a lot of colored people. So I figured that . . . and even the girl who would dance Carmen was from Puerto Rico originally.
Q: And so the costumes . . . .
A: Were modern. Modern Puerto Rico with a Spanish touch. I mean, this kind of combination when you could see that there in Puerto Rico, this kind of Spanish flavor.
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)