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Group Discussion No. 08 [July 3, 1985] [Larry Long, Dolores Lipinski, Orrin Kayan, and Patricia Klekovic]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0601
Run Time
0h 20m 33s
Date Produced
July 3 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: L (Larry Long); D (Dolores Lipinski); O (Orrin Kayan); and P (Patricia Klekovic).

Four of the original "Ruth Page Chicago Opera Ballet dancers" informally reminisce about their years with Ruth Page, touring with her company and amusing anecdotes from their appearances in the ballets at the Chicago Lyric Opera.
L: She started in that opera. It's funny because we found a program the other night. We were  . . . Dolores was looking through an old box of photographs and everything.
D: I found the program. I was trying to figure out what year we started the opera.
L: It was the year that we did Lord Byron's Love Letters -- Rafaello de Banfield -- when Briansky came and Carol Lawrence were there . . .
D: And Markova came.
L: . . . and Markova did Revenge with Sonia [Arova].
O: 1955.
L: That was '55, right . . . the people whose names came out of that, looking at the opera program . . .
D: Anya Lee . . .
L: . . . Anya Lee. Actually I think it was before you [pointing at Orrin Kayan], it was before me, but Gene Rapinski was one and [Ralph] Black and . . .
D: . . . those boys from the school.
L: Right. Mannie Winston. Right. Jimmy Moore was there with a different name.
D: I thought that probably Kenny [Johnson] would have done it 'cause he likes to keep all the records. If we could have taken a map of the United States and just done a couple of tours, how we moved around, zigzagged around that country.
L: I never saved any of our itineraries, did you?
O: They're somewhere. I have a "box of memories" somewhere, but I can't find it. It's buried someplace.
D: That would have been fun.
L: I wish I could have done it, that would have been great fun. My first year, when I first joined the company, the tour started in January and went January, February, March, April, and we didn't come back, I think, until like May 17th or something like that.
D: They were long.
L: The tour, as the company got older, they came down to about sixteen to seventeen weeks.
D: Do you remember the times . . . .
L: About sixteen weeks all together. But in the beginning they'd be much longer than that. Do you remember . . . .
O: We'd come out and go back and do . . . .
D: . . . both coasts in one tour. That was a lot of traveling.
O: That was before Nutcracker.
D: Do you remember when we used to meet Ballet Russe for rest stops. Sometimes Ballet Russe was touring at the same time we were, and we would happen to stop for a rest stop -- to go to the bathroom, or a cup of coffee, or something in between -- and we'd run into Ballet Russe that were on their rest stop. And they were going the other way. They toured nine months out of the year.
L: They were the only company that toured more than we did. Dolores, tell the story about the sunglasses.
D: I remember Miss Page one performance coming back during the intermission, and Don Judge was our stage manager, and she just came back, and she was really chewing him out about how he could let it be so dark, that if you were out in the audience you couldn't see a thing what was going on, and why should we bother doing all that dancing if nobody could see it. And he, being a real sweet guy, walked right over to her and said, "Maybe this is the reason," and he picked up these glasses -- she had her sunglasses on while she was watching the performance and didn't realize it. That was the reason it was so dark out there that performance.
O: Do you remember that one with Clive [Rickabaugh]?
D: That tour?
O: Poor Clive, he couldn't get the curtain . . . he couldn't get the curtain open. He couldn't get every cue read and the curtain up and the show started, all at the same time. And one day he called all the cues and everything was right and he said, "How's that?" And Betty Gore said, "Aren't you going to raise the curtain?" And he said, "Oh, my God, the curtain!" Well, instead of raising it, it started to come down.
D: And so we all got lower and lower. You know, first we crouched. And then we went down. We were flat on our stomachs, the whole cast, and he shot the curtain up like that, and so we all had to jump on our feet like in a split second start. Oh, he was a character.
O: He was Murphy's Law. He really was Murphy's Law.
D: He'd start ballets with no people out there. The music would be playing and then no dancers would be ready to dance yet.
P: He started ballets without the conductor in the pit. [Laughter]
D: Do you remember the time, too, that the . . . we were in Leadville, and we blew out all the lights in the town?
L: I remember that.
D: And I remember Neal was conducting and we all heard, "Oh, Don? Oh, Don?" like Jack Benny. And he was telling the stage manager that the orchestra had no lights, so they couldn't read the music to play because they don't memorize all that music like the dancers have to memorize steps. And that, that . . . then we were doing Nutcracker.
L: Henning [Kronstam] and Kirsten [Simone] were with us.
D: Henning and Kirsten were with us. And I remember because I was doing "Waltz of the Flowers," and Leadville was very hard to breathe. Do you remember? There was no air there to breathe. And because there was only a spotlight man, he kept it on me through the whole dance and usually in the dance I had places where I rested, but because I had the only light on, I couldn't rest. And all the corps de ballet was laughing because they were in the dark and I was in the light and it was hard to breathe, and I had to keep doing things because I had light.
     Well, then the best part. The orchestra managed -- they weren't really playing well, a few instruments were playing -- so that you could recognize what you were dancing to. But then our guest artist came on to the "Grand pas de deux," and the conductor had to sing it. There was no music at all, and he was singing this Grand pas de deux for them to dance to, and you hear him go "Da da da da da dada da," and here come these two guests from Denmark. Oh, I tell you, we laughed because they were very straightlaced, you know, of course.
L: Do you remember when we started Chicago Ballet? We did . . . I don't know if you did this one . . . .
D: You [Orrin Kayan] did Don Q with me. No, we did Don Q on that program. Yeah.
L: Did I say Romeo and Juliet ?
D: The orchestra broke, the tape broke . . . .
L: I thought he was doing Romeo with Anna Baker.
D: No, we were doing Don Q on that program because we had to do it in a triangle stage, do you remember? He would lift me and have to run back with me. But any way, you weren't on stage yet. I came out in my costume to warm up, and here's Larry singing full voice, and I walk over to him and I go, "Lar, what are you doing?" And he kept pushing me away, he kept pushing me.
L: Meanwhile I'm singing Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture. The whole thing, orchestration . . . .
D: Finally, I realize what he was doing and he's going "Laah dee, la da da dadada," you know. I couldn't believe that he knew all those parts you never would sing, you know.
L: I sang the whole damn ballet from beginning to end.
D: And they're out there fighting and dancing.
L: And this horrible voice from the wings. We get it all over with, and Miss Page comes back and says, "Oh, that was just awful. We fixed the machine, let's do it all over again."
D: "Do you mean we're gonna have to dance this whole thing again right away? And she went, "Oh, yes, for the audience's sake." They did it again. [Laughter]
L: I tell you, I think that's a feat; we should send that to Guinness. One voice, one horrible voice, screeching out that entire score. Tchaikovsky must have been dizzy.
D: There's also the wonderful time that we were doing . . . we were in the Opera and we were all sitting around . . . .
L: We must tell the best opera story, we can do it now without being killed.
D: How bad is it?
L: How bad . . . well, it's terrible. It depends on your point of view. Do you remember it was when Sutherland was doing Lucia.
D: Oh, don't you tell that on me, please.
L: I'm going to. Well, you at the Opera. It was wonderful.
D: They're probably going to sue me.
L: At the Opera our dressing room was on 2M, and there was that catwalk, do you remember? Well, Dolores loved Lucia from the time Callas first did it there. And Sutherland was doing it. It was her debut in Chicago with Lyric Opera doing Lucia. And Dolores unbeknownst, unrealizing what was happening, would go out on that catwalk and sing all of the arias with . . . .
O: Dolores!
L: With Sutherland, with Joan Sutherland. And I was in the dressing room and there she is just singing. Well, the acoustics are enough in that huge cavernous backstage that it was going all over. Well, they must have thought that Sutherland had a kind of . . . .
D: I beg your pardon, a very nice voice.
L: But Sutherland, you ain't! [Laughter]
L: Well, they were sending people, they had no idea where it was coming from . . . .
D: That's when Lloyd Harris was stage manager. And he came tearing up to find where this was coming from.
L: Carol Fox had come running back from the audience [saying] that they heard this sound accompanying.
D: I mean, I only did it when she did her solo.
L: When he came up and said, "My God, where's . . .
D: L[arry] came running up and said to me, "Dolores, Dolores, they're going to kill you if they catch you. Everybody's all over the theater trying to find this person who's singing with Sutherland. Get off of there." So I ran and hid. I was terrified that somebody would know that it was me that had been singing and tell them. And she would kill me herself. And I remember they ran around for a couple hours. I hid in the dressing room.
L: I mean it was the talk of the theater for that whole season. Did we know who had done it?
D: The phantom of the opera.
L: The phantom of the opera was Dolores, just vocalizing up there like crazy with Sutherland.
D: The funny thing was, I didn't know the words, you know. I would know a few words, you know, "Addio" and a few of those things. And then it would be a lot of "la da da da" and stuff in there. Do you remember the time I had that solo to do behind the singer?
L: That was supposed to be Patricia's, remember that? You put your foot down. You said, "I won't do that."
D: Well, it was another one of those opera singers making her debut at Lyric. You know her name.
L: Tatiana Troyanos.
D: Oh, yeah, I thought it was Elena Souliotis, I can't . . .
L: Elena Souliotis, right. That's who it was.
D: And she was going to make her debut, and it was Helen of Troy.
L: No, it was in Boito's Mefistofele, wasn't it?
D: I thought it was Helen of Troy.
L: And she was howling.
D: And I was her ego, or her alter-person. And I had to come out and do visually what she was singing about. And she was very upset that I was going to dance her big aria. And I didn't blame her. I didn't want to do the dance, either.
O: It was the best thing though. I remember at rehearsal . . . .
L: It was . . . there was this sizable soprano all done up like this, and she wouldn't sing because she was saving her voice. She was a little bit teed-off, anyway . . . her aria. And Dolores is crouched down . . .
D: . . . behind her. Do you remember? I hid behind her and then when she went, "Addio," I stepped out and started doing the dance. And . . . .
L: "Notte."
D: "Notte," that's right.
L: And you didn't hear anything. And so from rehearsal, Dolores . . . .
D: All my cues were words.
L: So you'd hear this tiny little voice go, "Notte," and Dolores steps out like that.
D: And she wouldn't sing, and I didn't . . . I couldn't do the dance because I was waiting for her words to make my moves on. I sang it. I started singing it, because I knew the words. Well, that really teed her off.
L: God, that was really funny.
D: To hear me go, "Notte."
O: Do you remember the time we were in the dressing room? What was it? Walpurgis Nacht?
L: Samson and Delilah.
O: And I was supposed to be the first one on stage. I was the snake, do this big thing. And we were all up there in the dressing room telling stories like this, and laughing and laughing and laughing. And all of a sudden we heard . . . .
D: Somebody went, "Do you hear what they're playing? Sounds like our music."
O: Ahhhh, you never saw people move so fast.
D: And then we all shut up, and we realized it was our music. Well, we didn't wait for elevators, anything, we started jumping down stairs. And we knew Miss Page would kill us for missing the act.
O: I didn't make it.
L: You didn't make it!
O: I didn't make it.
D: And I think it was Ellen [Everett], myself, and Chuck. We had this "Delia la la la la la," and we came running out just in time to start going, "Delia la la la la la," except we were laughing, of course, because we knew that we were gonna catch heck from her.
     Do you remember also the time that Callas was singing, and she had picked us out as bridesmaids for her wedding in Norma? And Miss Page had given us this huge lecture about, "I want you to pay attention that whole time you're in that scene, don't let your mind wander, don't let your eyes wander, you keep your eyes on her," and all of that. Do you remember, you were a bridesmaid, too. Well, I remember I was closest. It wound up the way we ushered in there that I was the one closest to where Callas was singing, and I was holding my bouquet and I was very attentive. And they were spitting all over each other, and pretty soon I got tired of watching them spit, and I started looking in the pit and I started looking out at the theater and wandering. And Callas in the middle of her aria decided to turn around and grab me. Well, it was as though Miss Page had grabbed me. I nearly screamed out loud because I was so shocked at her turning and touching me when I wasn't paying attention. And so it was Miss Page saying, "You're not paying attention to what you're supposed to be doing." And I almost passed out from fright. I'll never forget that. Oh, because I remember . . .
L: Do you remember how Ruth was very, very serious about what we did?
D: Oh, gosh, yes. Do you remember the time we did the "Rataplan" number? And the guy didn't change what we were doing, and we did it behind the singers?
L: Miss Page wouldn't change, either. We ended up doing it behind the chorus. You just occasionally saw girls jump up in the air -- like that -- with their arms . . . .
D: There were places where we were on people's shoulders and they . . . we were carried so -- you were doing strange things up there. Oh, we did lots of wonderful things in the Opera. Do you remember when I grabbed Stefano? Remember that wonderful tenor? What's his name?
L: Giuseppe di Stefano.
D: Right. And he had those funny costumes. They had given us scarves to cover our bras. And then they had given us these funny little skirts. They were only safety-pinned on. And we would come out and we were supposed to be like luring him and doing all this stuff with him. And my skirt undid, and all we had on were trunks and no tights or anything. And so I grabbed him and I ran behind him and said, "Don't move, don't move! I've got to fix my skirt." And he was like, " Who is this person telling me to stand still?" And I'm going, "Don't move, don't move," and I got my skirt pinned and I came out and I wrapped myself around him. Who is this girl? Don't you remember that? You had . . . some bras had bull's eyes on them! Do you remember? They found costumes from -- oh, I don't know, the old Opera days.
O: Well, remember Maria Tallchief. "Dance of the Hours." And they handed her that costume. They gave her the most horrible costume the world has ever seen. It was . . . I don't know what it was. And she just looked at it, and she took it out and she says, "I'll take it home and do something with it."
D: She bought a nightgown.
O: She bought a nightgown. She bought a Dior nightgown, for a fortune. And cut it up and trimmed some of those beads that were off of that costume onto it and that was what she wore. But she was like so and Carol Fox said, "Don't tell, don't tell Maria it doesn't look good. She'll never know." And Ruth was like, "Darling, I don't think she'll know."
D: I also remember the time, talking about costumes, when the Merry Widow first came. Do you remember when we were up on the 7th floor and the hats came for the Maxim girls, those hats. And Miss Page said, "Try on the costumes, let's see what it's going to look like." So I put my hat on and she said, "Turn in it, do this, do that, let's see how they're going to work." And we did all that. And she said, "All right, take those off." And I was standing at the back of the room and I took my hat and I did it like a frisbee. And I went "jjerruppp," and it went right into the box, and she came over and hit me. Do you remember that? Not realizing that those hats cost . . .
O: . . . $500.
D: Oh, yeah, we did lots . . .
O: Well, do you remember, tell the story on myself. When the costumes came for Camille and I was doing the "Farmer's Waltz?" And all of my costume was there except the tights and she said . . . and she made me do it in my dance belt. She made me put the costume on and I remember I had pants on, and she said, "Take those off." Well, I said, "But Ruth." "Take those off!" And off they came. And there I was barebutt naked, doing the "Farmer's Waltz."
D: Well, I just found the picture recently of the costumes we wore when we did Faust in the opera. Do you remember what those things looked like? Wow! We were . . . all the girls were bare midriff, and we had . . . well, I just showed it to Sheila. And I like had a bullet over my bra and this bullet like that. And I had a wig on that was gray like a mop. We had strange costumes.
O: That's the one I was the snake, wasn't it?
D: You had snakes wrapped all around your arms. Do you remember . . . ?
L: A lot of times as a snake. [Laughter]
D: Do you remember the time you did yourself up, you supered? Remember how you always loved to super, and we all hated you because you did. You were crazy about Schwarzkopf and all that. It took us twenty years to get out of "supering," and you always wanted to super so you could see those singers. But do you remember when you did yourself up as a goat?
L: Oh, a fawn. Yes. What opera was that? A satyr sort of thing. With all curls and horns, kind of like your hair. Only it took me a long time to get it like that. Made of horns.
D: Oh, you made a wonderful makeup and everything you did gray and all that and then did the body.
L: I remember we were doing Favorita. I do remember that. And I was like a Major Domo or something big. I had a kind of like a Louis XIV skirt, costume, like a skirt on, and this curly wig and a big staff and there were bows every place.
D: High heels, too.
L: High heels with bows on them and it was in the style and period of everything. And you all were dancing but I had this kind of character. And Dolores's father came to the performance and we asked him, "Well, what did you think of it?" "Oh, I liked the dancing pretty good, but who was that old lady who was in the middle of everything?" And Dolores said, "That wasn't an old lady, that was my husband, that was Larry." I didn't do that part any more. I gave it to Barry Epson . . . . [Laughter]
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