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Clive Barnes No. 04 [April 15, 1987]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0611
Run Time
0h 16m 5s
Date Produced
April 15 1987
Q: A sort of odd question, really: if there would be one thing that you could change about Ruth Page, what would that be?
A: If I could change one thing about Ruth Page, if I could give Ruth Page something, if I were some kind of fairy godfather, I think I 'd bend down and touch her with my wand and give her the genius of creativity. Now, whether she'd be happier with that, it would be one of those odd fairy kisses. Perhaps her happiness was that . . . I don't think she ever had any worries about her work. I don't think that she had many pretensions or illusions about her work either. I don't think she ever thought she was a figure of Balanchinian or Ashtonian proportions. I don't know if it would make her happy, but I think I would like to give her that, just because, in a way, she deserved it so much more than artists who had it. Also, she would have employed it with such a difference and such charm and such mischief, that it might have been fascinating.
Q: Did you ever see her at a time when she was frustrated, unhappy, angry, suffering?
A: I saw her when she was suffering very much once when . . . as a matter of fact, my first meeting with her, she sobbed all the way through it. She sobbed over a notice that I had written. I forget the ballet it was, actually, but she was sobbing in the background, while Tom was threatening legal action which, in actual fact and of course, really is very difficult in this country to have legal recourse against a critic. Perhaps it's too difficult, I 'm not sure. But there was poor Ruth sobbing in the background. It was heart-rending because she was so obviously a nice and decent woman, and critics never like to be made aware of the pain they can cause. We like to do what we conceive of as our job and walk away, leaving the victims to their own devices. I'm not saying it's a particularly cruel job, but it's a job that does involve giving pain, and if you're sensitive, and most critics are surprisingly sensitive, it's part of our job and which most of us really recoil from. There was poor Ruth actually sobbing. Of course, one is always aware that no one wants to do a bad ballet and no one conceives one's opinion of something. Yes, I did see her in pain, and it was not pleasant.
Q: How do you account for the fact that you later became good enough friends to have dinner together?
A: What I think is one of the remarkable things about Ruth as an artist is that, just as a person, she's incapable of malice. She's forgetful of malice. I mean, someone like Rudolph Nureyev -- charming man, who I admire and like very much -- Rudolph remembers every bad notice that was ever written about him. I'm sure that he could almost quote them verbatim; people he wouldn't trouble to ask if it was raining outside, people he despises, but he would remember those bad notices. And most people are like that. I know all of the people who have written unkindly about me, and they've been legion. I remember them. I don't think I hold any particular malice against them, but I remember them.
     I don't think that Ruth even remembers them. Every relationship she starts with trust and with kind of a clean sheet. It's not as though you're meeting her for the first time; it's much more complex than that. You are being judged as if you're meeting her for the first time. She's not aware of past injuries, but she's aware of past pleasures. It's almost a unique quality, particularly from a person who puts herself in the public eye so much. It's a wonderful quality.
Q: What qualities do you think enabled her, personally, to go on and keep doing and doing and doing what she did?
A: Ruth was always an indomitable person. Nothing could stop her. She was determined, in the end, against all probability, to create a ballet in the Midwest that she could personally be proud of. A ballet of the equivalence of Diaghilev, which, after all, is what she grew up with. And she wanted . . . she was very much a Midwestern person. She had her roots in Chicago. She kept her roots in Chicago. As a result, she was determined to do something about ballet in that city, and nothing would stop her. It was just that she was like a heavyweight, she was like Rocky. She kept on coming back for more. She would either be knocked down either by funding or by insulting notices. She always had a certain amount of public support, remember, which helped her and kept her going and kept her warm.
     But she had a lack of public recognition apart from public support -- official recognition. She was never a favorite with the National Endowment for the Arts. She was never a favorite with any funding . . . . She never . . . I don't think she ever knew the names of the people in the Ford Foundation. As far as foundations are concerned, the fact that people perceived her, I think really wrongly perceived her, as having unlimitless sums of money, did not help her, because people said, "If she wants it, she's a rich lady, let her pay for it."
     This was an attitude which . . . no one is that rich. Subsequently, such a rich person as Mrs. Rebekah Harkness showed exactly the same thing. But Ruth believed in what she was
doing. She believed in Chicago and the Midwest, and she believed that she had a ballet tradition to contribute, and I think that kept her going.
Q: Do you think it might have been different had she moved to New York? You know, she thought about it and made plans to do it frequently, and then never did.
A: Ruth always was thinking of coming to New York. She was always thinking of basing her company in New York and then going back to Chicago. It would have had some advantages for her, inasmuch as she certainly might have been taken more seriously in Chicago -- because Chicago always took New York more seriously than it took Chicago seriously -- so that could have been a help. But I think she was sensible enough to realize that she was fundamentally a small fish and better to stay in that particular pool, rather than risk it in New York. What could have been a possibility was if she had formed a liaison with Sergei Denham of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and somehow taken over the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. That might have given her a more secure touring base and a sort of New York cachet, which could have helped her. But for her to come in to New York where already there was Balanchine and Kirstein and Lucia Chase already there and implanted, and in later years Robert Joffrey as well . . . . To have come into that particular thing would probably have certainly needed money, but would have been asking for trouble.
Q: As you know, there is a rather long list of firsts to Ruth's credit: the first person to commission a score from Aaron Copland, some of the other composers and artists that she worked with, and the first person to present Rudolph Nureyev after his defection. Do you think she had some special type of quality and eye for talent, perhaps?
A: I think that Ruth always did have a very special eye for talent. It's not a coincidence that she produced so many people for the first time. Even something that people always forget is that she was one of the very first dancers in Apollo [Apollon Musagetes]. Apollo was originally done not by Diaghilev but by Adolph Bolm, and it was the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge thing in Washington, D. C. Ruth actually danced in the very first performance. Not in Balanchine's Apollo, but in Adolph Bolm's Apollon which came before Balanchine's. That's only one of the incredible number of firsts. She was the first to present Nureyev in New York and in Chicago, for that matter. She was the first to encourage a great number of creative artists and composers, Aaron Copland, for one example, and she had this connoisseur's eye for quality. For example, she understood very well the importance of Roland Petit, particularly in her field of ballet, her dramatic field of ballet. She understood very well, and she worked with Petit. She always had this feel for dancers, musicians, designers, choreographers who were . . . had something very special about them, which is why I think she would have proved such a remarkable artistic director. She had all of those qualities of connoisseurship, taste, and imagination. If she had run a restaurant, she'd have been a terrific maître d'.
Q: Do you think she has a sense of adventure as well?
A: Certainly her sense of adventure. Anyone would have to have a sense of adventure to start a ballet company in Chicago. The elements were not exactly favorable to chainé turns. She had not only a sense of adventure, but the imagination to make that adventure into a genuine trip. She wasn't an armchair traveler in any sense. She loved movement, and she loved doing different things. Perhaps, that sense of adventure was not always helpful, inasmuch as she was always working at a ballet company for Chicago, always working at what would have, indeed, been a third or fourth force in American dance -- apart from Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet . . . if you count San Francisco, perhaps a fourth force. But that was initially her . . .
     I think perhaps it was her sense of adventure that lead her not to pursue one thing with quite the single-mindedness that Lucia Chase and Lincoln Kirstein pursued them with. She would do something for a few seasons, and then she'd go away, and then she'd start again. If you look at the record of her achievements, there's a certain stopping and starting about them. And that was what people who are adventurous very often do not have -- the kind of hard-grind consistency that sometimes is needed. Sometimes, I think it works both ways.
Q: In the end, how do you personally, when you think about her, remember Ruth?
A: I think of hugging her. I think of the pleasure that she has given me as a person. I think of the guts with which she has pursued her ideals. I think of the way in which the whole dance world from Fonteyn to the smallest person in the corps de ballet who has come in contact with her has fallen in love with her. I think of the joy and ebullience some of her operetta ballets have given to audiences all over the world. I think of the pleasure that things like Merry Widow and Fledermaus . . . the way she has extended the operetta into what she used to call an "operetta dansant" or something like that. It's something that she has extended in . . . from the way of Massine who, I suppose, started the concept of the "ballet bouffe." She gave us the operetta dance, and I think that that is her real tribute.
Q: Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you'd like to talk about?
A: No, I don't think so. You've researched the whole thing awfully well and [I] think you've asked just the right questions.
Q: Thank you.
Related Place
New York (production location of)