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Ruth Page No. 04 [March 18, 1985]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0546
Run Time
0h 19m 13s
Date Produced
March 18 1985
Q: Okay. Here's a picture of you.
A: Yes, that's "the Flapper" . . . . There's one with me with "the Quarterback," too . . . . That was the first, I think, Americana. Now, I know the date was 1926. Maybe somebody'd done something American, realistic, like that, but I don't think so. There isn't one of me and the boy? I thought there was one of me and the boy.
Q: So tell me about The Flapper and The Quarterback. I mean, that was really quite a departure.
A: Yes, it was. That was a real departure. I don't know how I happened to do it. I had the music specially written by Clarence Loomis. I remember him. And the costume is sort of copied after the John Held cartoons. And at that time, we were all trying to be very American, you know. We didn't want to be classical. Now, of course, it's just the opposite, but at that time, everybody was trying to do something American -- "Amurican." And that was my first American attempt. I did a lot of others later, but that was the first one.
Q: And what's the story of the ballet?
A: It had no story at all. It's just a flapper and a quarterback dancing together like, well, the Charleston. It was a little bit sort of based on the Charleston. That was the dance of the hour . . . . And it was sort of like that. I remember coming in and I had on these galoshes, and he took off my galoshes and threw them up into the air, and then we started [sings] "Da-lum, da-lum . . . ." You know, going into a jazzy thing. And I remember the end of it. We slid down each other's backs -- "Dee--dalumpee . . . ." It was sort of original. It was short. A little short dance.
Q: How long?
A: Oh, about five minutes, I guess.
Q: That is short.
A: Yes.
Q: And you danced it, and how was it received?
A: Oh, everybody adored it. It was something very new, you see, and everybody loved it. It was very new at that time. Everybody loved it.
Q: Now, when you went out to dance it for the first time, knowing it was something new, knowing it was something different, were you at all concerned? Afraid? Afraid people wouldn't like it?
A: Well, I never cared whether people liked things or not. They don't like it, I don't do it. They like it, I do it. That's all. Simple as that. I've done a lot of dances that people don't like, and I just don't do them anymore. But that one was very popular. The Peter Pan dances were very, very popular, too.
Q: What were the Peter Pan dances? Those were the ones . . . you started doing those a long time . . . those were the ones you started doing with Bolm?
A: Bolm. I think so. I don't know when I used to do the Peter Pan. I don't know, I just always fancied myself a Peter Pan character. I was Peter Pan. Everybody called me Peter [sic].
Q: Really? That was your nickname?
A: There's a picture of me as Peter Pan up there. By Remisoff.
Q: Did you think of yourself as Peter Pan?
A: Oh, yes. I was as Peter Pan-ish as you can't imagine. Very fey . . . .
Q: All right. So, there we are: Flapper and the Quarterback, Peter Pan. Now I think that this is very interesting. . . I mean, were you being deliberately fey, or do you think you just . . . .
A: No. I was that way.
Q: Yes. Still are.
A: Oh, yes? I don't know what I am now. I'm nothing now.
Q: Hardly.
A: Nothing at all.
Q: The Peter Pan. So what did you think is the essence of Peter Pan; that Peter Pan never grows up? It's the essence of the joy of being a child, of childhood . . . .
A: Yes. It's a charming character, actually, when you think about it. Don't you think so?
Q: Yes.
A: I remember the play Peter Pan. Don't you remember the play?
Q: Very well.
A: I can't remember who did it. Who was it? Who danced, who acted Peter Pan?
Q: Well, let's see . . . Mary Martin [sic] . . .
A: Mary Martin.
Q: . . . was famous for Peter Pan.
A: Yes.
Q: Yes. It was a role you could have played. Did you ever think about the theatre?
A: No. I wish I had, because I could have done it, I'm sure. I only wanted to be a choreographer. It was so stupid of me. I had so many different kinds of offers, and I said, "Oh, no. I'm a choreographer." It was stupid.
Q: When was the first time you knew what a choreographer even was?
A: I always knew. It was just making up dances. That's all choreography is. And I always wanted to make up dances from the time I was born.
Q: I believe that's true.
A: Came out of my mother's womb doing choreography, I'm sure.
Q: I'm beginning to think so. I really am . . . . Okay. So, The Flapper and the Quarterback. And then after that you did the . . . . There's a note here about a ballet you did called Oak Street Beach.
A: Oh, yes. That's very interesting. That was the beach here, and I thought it was so interesting, the way the skyscrapers came right down to the water, you know. And that was all. One of my first Americana things. I don't doubt that it was a very good ballet, but the idea was very good.
Q: It is a good idea. Were there people in bathing suits, having fun on the beach?
A: Oh, yes, yes. And it was very realistic, a realistic ballet. I've pictures of it, so that's how I happen to know what it was like, because I don't remember it too well. And I think the same man wrote the music. I think it was Clarence Loomis.
Q: How did you settle on Clarence Loomis to write the music to The Flapper and the Quarterback?
A: I have no idea. He was just an American who was around here, and I guess I just used him. I always had my music specially written for my ballets, until lately. Every ballet I'd ever dance, I had the music specially written, until I started doing operas-into-ballets . . . and then I used opera music. And after that, I started using music that was already written, like Carmina Burana, Catulli Carmina and all those ballets . . . .
Q: But was that common in those days for people to commission music for their ballets?
A: What?
Q: Was that common for people to commission music for their ballets? Wasn't most ballet really done . . .
A: I don't know.
Q: . . . to folk music and music that already existed?
A: I don't know. I didn't pay any attention to anybody who did ballets except my own.
Q: When you gave the instructions to Loomis to write the music for The Flapper and the Quarterback, what did you tell him?
A: I said what I wanted -- well, the idea and how long I wanted it to be and who was going to be in it, and what was going to be in [it], and then he did the music. If I didn't like it, I didn't take it.
Q: How much did it cost?
A: Oh, you'd pay them any price. He was very happy to get $100. You could pay any price -- a little, or some of the time they'd do it for nothing, and sometimes they'd want a lot of money. All different prices.
Q: Did he come to the ballet, Loomis? Did he ever see it performed?
A: I don't know! I can't remember him at all, really.
Q: He's just a name. You know that he did it.
A: Yes. I used a lot of different composers. Lehman Engel I used a lot. He did all the dance poems that I did. He did all those. He was very good. He was a sailor up at . . . . Oh, what was that place where sailors go? [Male voice: Great Lakes] . . . Great Lakes? Was it? And we were living in Winnetka. He'd come down and we worked together. All that time he was here, we worked.
Q: He was in the Navy?
A: Yes.
Q: How did you find him?
A: Well, I knew him before as a composer . . . . He was just in the Navy. That wasn't his job. And he was very good for composing dances. Very good.
Q: Okay. So, let's see. We were sort of doing a chronology . . . . You were invited to go and dance in Japan and Bolm was not . . . . You were about to go to Japan, and you said you had been invited and Otto [sic] had not been. And then what happened?
A: Well, I went, and I took two girls and one boy with me.
Q: And the boy was Harald Kreutzberg.
A: No.
Q: No, that was later?
A: The second time, I went with just Harald Kreutzberg and I alone. This was the first time I went. I loved Japan. I've always been crazy about Japan. I think it started when I was a child, and I had a nurse who gave me a book of Japanese fairy tales. I still love them. And so I think I was prepared to love Japan even before I went. And I did love it. I liked it both times. They're a marvelous audience over there, and they know more about you than you know about yourself. If you meet somebody, they'll say, "Oh, you did such and such a dance at such and such a place, didn't you? And your costume was like this . . . ." And you sort of say, "Did I?" you know. They remember everything. Absolutely everything. And I had a lot of Japanese friends. I liked them very much.
Q: How did it come to be that you were invited?
A: Well, [A.] Strok was the [impresario]. I remember his name. And he was over here and saw Bolm's performance and instead of asking Bolm to go, he asked me to go. That was the way it was. And of course, I shouldn't have gone. It was a terrible thing to do.
Q: Why?
A: Well, I mean I was Bolm's pupil, and Bolm had done everything for me. And I shouldn't have done it. I think it was a terrible thing to do. Anyway, I did it.
Q: Well, at the time, you must have felt it was an okay thing to do.
A: No, I didn't . . . . But I wanted it so badly that I went. I was dying to go to Japan and there was no chance I could go on my own, so I went to dance. I wanted to dance there. I really wanted that very badly.
Q: And so you made a little company and took them with you . . . . And what did you dance?
A: Oh, everything that I had. I can't remember what I danced. I really don't remember at all -- everything I had in my repertoire.
Q: Well . . . it must have been unusual for the Japanese to see that kind of dancing, which by that time had become sort of American, certainly. Even Western dance must not have been very well-known to the Japanese at that point, at all, even the classic ballets, I would think . . . . .
A: Well, I think they like classical ballet all right, but of course, I did all these, Flapper and the Quarterback and things like that, which was rather a surprise to them, but they came right along with you. That's what I like about the Japanese. They were willing to learn, and they went into it very thoroughly. They did everything very deep and profound. They didn't just say, "Well, that's a nice dance." They wanted to know all about it, and I think they're very interesting people. I like them.
Q: Do you think it's politeness or it's a different kind of approach to the . . . .
A: No. I think they're more profound than we are. We're inclined to say, "Oh, that's a cute dance. That's pretty," you know. But they go into everything very deeply. At least that's the impression they gave me.
Q: Do you think they take art more seriously than we do?
A: Yes, and I'll tell you, they like to copy us, too, you see . . . . We don't copy. At least I never did. But they like to copy what you do . . . . But Japanese theatre is so interesting. There are all kinds of different kinds of theatres. There's the Noh, which is very slow, and you have to sort of know about it before you can really enjoy it. Then there's the Kabuki, which is the more popular theatre . . . . And they have puppet theatres. Now they have a lot of different other kinds. I don't know what they are now. I'd like to see what they have now. I don't know anymore. Haven't been there for so long.
Q: Maybe you should take another trip.
A: I hope not. I don't want to take another trip.
Q: The other day, we were sitting and you were looking through the itinerary of that trip, and Jerry was reading it off to you, and you said, "Oh, I've been there, and I've been there, and I've been there." You really have been everywhere.
A: Yes. I haven't been to New Zealand. Or Australia. Or Fiji. Or South Africa. I was reading that article in The New Yorker. Have you read that? It's so long, I don't think I'll ever finish it, but it's all about the blacks in South Africa . . . and their position. It's terribly interesting . . . about slavery and how everything started there and what Apartheid means now . . . . It's a terrible situation the blacks went through there; all those . . . well, slavery mainly. I'm going to finish the article soon as I get time. Then I'll tell you about it. I'm about halfway through it now.
Q: You're really quite a voracious reader. You read a lot.
A: I love to read. Yes. I like to read when I get in bed at night. That's when I like to read. When nobody disturbs you.
Q: And you like to listen to music before you got to sleep?
A: Yes. I listen to music all night long, too. I turn the thing on. I can't sleep very well, so I listen to music most of the night.
Q: One of your biographers says that it's because your mother used to play music for you every night before you went to sleep.
A: She always did. She had certain things that she'd put me to sleep with. Yes. [Sings: Tchaikovsky's Andante Cantabile] Yes, Mother . . . I always made her play me to sleep.
Q: And now you listen to it as you're going to go to sleep.
A: Sometimes it puts me to sleep, and sometimes it doesn't. I'm a very temperamental sleeper . . . .
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Chicago (production location of)