Page, Ruth Marian
Page, Ruth Marian
(b. 22 March 1899 in Indianapolis, Indiana; d. 7 April 1991 in Chicago, Illinois), ballet dancer, choreographer, and ballet company director whose dancing combined cosmopolitan flair with innovative technique.
Page was the second of three children born to Lafayette Page, a surgeon, and Marian Heinly, a pianist. As a young child, she began taking dancing lessons with Anna Stanton in Indianapolis. In her family home, Page met noted musical and artistic houseguests and entertained family visitors with “fancy dancing” (dancing with a scarf). Her first exposure to classical ballet was during high school, when her mother took her to New York City for one week of classes at Elizavetta Menzeli’s “Knickerbocker Conservatory, School of Ballet, Fancy, Stage and Society Dancing.” Young Page was inquisitive and serious, as revealed in her journals. In 1915 she entered Tudor Hall School for Girls in Indianapolis, where she wrote essays on topics such as Serge Oukrainsky and Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes; she graduated in 1916.
After visiting Page’s home, the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova recommended Page for classical training with her troupe. Pavlova sent Jan Zalewski, a Polish dancer, to Indianapolis to give the teenager daily lessons. Page described a “communication gap” with Zalewski, perhaps the result of Page’s ignorance at that time of French ballet terms. In July 1915 she continued instruction with Zalewski in Chicago at Midway Gardens. From 1918 to 1919 Page, accompanied by her mother, traveled with the Anna Pavlova Company on a South American tour. Page wrote her friend Eleanor Shaler, who had considered a dancing career, “Are you glad you went to college (Vassar), or do you think you would have rather gone on dancing, and ‘gone to perdition’ with me?”
In 1917 Page entered Miss Williams’ and Miss McClellan’s French School for Girls, a finishing school in New York City, and resumed courses in 1919, following the Pavlova tour. She studied ballet with Adolph Bolm, learning his specialty—character dance—which became instrumental to Page’s career. He encouraged her to create her first choreographies, stressing movement. In 1917 she danced in Bolm’s “poem-choreographic,” “Falling Leaves,” in Victor Herbert’s revue Miss 1917 at the Century Theatre in New York City. She then starred in John Alden Carpenter’s The Birthday of the Infanta in 1919 at the Chicago Grand Opera Company.
When Page went to London to appear at the Coliseum in 1920, Bolm insisted she study with Maestro Enrico Cec-chetti, an eminent Italian professor of ballet and master of mime. Her mother did not approve of Cecchetti’s requirement that female pupils kiss him on the cheek before and after each class, fearing that her daughter would contract germs. Page mused, “I survived.”
On 6 December 1921, Page performed “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” at the Apollo Theatre in New York City. In March 1922 Page’s career turned to the Broadway stage with Bolm in Danse Macabre, the first danse-film (cinema in the dance genre) with synchronized sound, which premiered at the Rialto Theatre. She was première danseuse in Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue in New York City from 1922 to 1923, and on the show’s U.S. tour from 1923 to 1924.
In December 1923 Page first met lawyer Thomas Hart Fisher for tea at the Russian Tea Room in Chicago. They married on 8 February 1925, and Fisher was Page’s confidant and business manager until his death in 1969. They had no children. During their honeymoon in Paris, Page, missing dance, left for Monte Carlo to audition for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Diaghilev arrived late, and Page worried his delay might affect her warm-up. However, she danced well enough to be accepted as the first American woman in the Ballets Russes company. Carefree, Page wrote Fisher,
Diaghilev is still furious, he found out about Balanchine’s teaching us a dance, and he thinks it was awful of me… I’m afraid Diag. will be my enemy for life, but I really don’t care much—I never would have dreamed that it would have made the slightest difference to him.
Page contended that Diaghilev resented Balanchine teaching her a dance, as well as using his studio and pianist. The Diaghilev-Page relationship ended in April.
Once back in Chicago, Page resumed dancing for Bolm in rehearsals for a role she had desired, the Queen of Shemakhan in Le coq d’or, performed at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 1925 and 1926 she performed numerous roles as principal dancer for Bolm in the newly established Chicago Allied Arts. Page reflected contemporary life in her choreography and dancing as the Flapper in The Flapper and the Quarterback in 1925.
In 1928 Page danced at the Japanese emperor Hirohito’s coronation. In subsequent years, her career in Chicago demonstrated her intuitive creativity. She and the Austrian expressionist dancer Harald Kreutzberg formed an American and Far East tour from 1933 to 1934. Beginning in 1935, for two decades, Page worked with Bentley Stone, her partner and choreographic collaborator. As codirectors of the Dance Section of the Chicago Federal Theatre Project/Work Projects Administration (WPA), they presented Page’s most memorable work on an American theme, Frankie and Johnny, and formed the Page-Stone Ballet in 1938. Page was ballet director and principal dancer for the Ravinia Opera in Highland Park, Illinois, in 1926; the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1927; the Chicago Civic Opera from 1934 to 1936; and the Chicago Opera in 1941 and 1942. She was the choreographer and ballet director of the Chicago Lyric Opera from 1954 to 1969 and led an independent ballet company, Ruth Page’s Chicago Opera Ballet, from 1956 to 1966. Page celebrated her first year as director of the Lyric Opera with a double-bill presentation of The Merry Widow in Chicago and in New York City. Page’s “The Nutcracker” ballet, debuted in Chicago in 1965, became an annual holiday event. She directed the Ruth Page Foundation School of the Dance, which continued under Larry Long. She was the artistic director of the Chicago Ballet from 1974 to 1977 and a guest choreographer for Les Ballets des Champs-Élysécs (1948), London’s Royal Festival Ballet (1953), and (Leonide Massine’s) Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo (1952).
Page was the author of Page by Page (1978) and Class Notes on Dance Classes Around the World, 1915-1980 (1984). She married the French stage designer and director Andre Delfau in 1983. The recipient of several honorary degrees, Page also received the Dance Magazine Award in 1980 and 1990, and the Illinois Gubernatorial Award in 1985. For Ruth Page, dance was life. She remained focused on the art throughout her later years. She continued barre practice and took daily classes into her eighties. True to her art, Page once wrote, “Next to performing, class is the most important thing in a dancer’s life.” Page died in her home in Chicago of respiratory failure.
Page’s correspondence, housed in the Dance Collection of the New York Public Library, has been cataloged by her biographer, Andrew Mark Wentink, in “The Ruth Page Collection: An Introduction and Guide to Manuscript Materials through 1970,” in Bulletin of Research in the Humanities. Page’s Page by Page (1978), edited and introduced by Wentink, is an honest autobiography. John Martin wrote a personal biography of her life in Ruth Page: An Intimate Biography (1977). Page’s Class: Notes on Dance Classes Around the World, 1915-1980 (1984), edited with additional notes by Wentink, provides a record of international dance education, classwork technique, and selected profiles of ballet impresarios, including Adolph Bolm, Enrico Cecchetti, Bentley Stone, Cia Fornaroli Toscanini, and Larry Long. Page describes her assemblage of “Die Fledermaus for television” in Dance Magazine (Dec. 1986). An obituary is in the New York Times (9 Apr. 1991). Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” (1983), choreographed by Page, is available on color video, in Louise Spain, ed., Dance on Camera: A Guide to Dance Films and Videos (1998).
Sandra Redmond Peters