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Who was Ruth Page? Part I

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 22, 1900, Ruth Page was the second of three children and only daughter of Dr. Lafayette Page, a neurosurgeon, and Mrs. Marian Heinly Page, a pianist. Her brothers were Lafayette and Irvine. She was married twice, first to Thomas Hart Fisher, and after his death to Andre Delfau.

Young Ruth attended Tudor Hall School for Girls, where she developed an interest in dance, and from which she graduated in 1916. At the age of fifteen, she was recruited by Anna Pavlova to study with Jan Zalewski at the Anna Pavlova Company at Midway Gardens in Chicago over the summer of 1915. This was the beginning of her connection with Chicago.

Her first public performance was in the James Whitcomb Riley Festival at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis. In 1917, she entered Miss Williams’ and Miss McClellan’s French School for Girls in New York City.

This was the beginning of her connection with New York City. She also began dance studies with Adolph Bolm (1884-1954) and appeared in his poem-choreographic “Falling leaves” in Victor Herbert revue Miss 1917 at the Century Theatre in New York City.

From January of 1918 to February of 1919, she toured South America with the Anna Pavlova Company. In the fall of 1919, she returned to the French School, but returned to Chicago in December to dance “Infanta” in The Birthday of the Infanta for the Chicago Grand Opera Company.

John Allen Carpenter (1876-1951) had composed the music for Bolm’s adaptation of the fairy tale “The Birthday of the Infanta,” from Oscar Wilde’s A House of Pomegranates, published in 1888. Bolm had cast her to dance opposite himself.

In 1920, she appeared as Première Danseuse with Bolm’s Ballet Intime at the London Coliseum. While in London, she studied with the famous Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928). Between 1920 and ’22, she toured with Bolm’s Ballet Intime.

In March of 1922, she appeared with Bolm in Danse Macabre – the first dance-film with synchronized sound, which premiered at the Rialto Theatre in New York City. Between October of 1922 and March of 1924, she served as Première Danseuse in Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue, which premiered at the Music Box Theatre in New York City, and then toured the U.S.

In 1923, she met the affluent lawyer Thomas H. Fisher in Chicago. He would win out over several suitors.

On the recommendation of Bolm, she was appointed principal dancer and choreographer for the Ravinia Opera Company, a position she held from 1926 to 1931. On November 14, 1926, she danced with Chicago Allied Arts at the Eighth Street Theatre in Chicago for Marie, Queen of Rumania (now spelt Romania).

Between December 26, 1926 and January 2, 1927, she performed The Flapper and the Quarterback at the Eighth Street Theatre. This seems to have been the first Americana ballet choreographed by a native-born American.
From February to April of 1927, she was the Metropolitan Opera’s guest soloist at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. On February 7, 1927, she debuted The Bartered Bride with the Metropolitan Opera.

From June to September, she served as Ballet Director and Première Danseuse for the 2nd Season of the Ravinia Opera Company. She wed Fisher on February 8, 1925 at Rosewell in Indianapolis.

They honeymooned in Paris and Monte Carlo. With a letter of introduction from the conductor Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) she auditioned for the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) in Monte Carlo and she became the first American woman to join the Ballets Russes.

After a month in Monte Carlo, Fisher returned to Chicago to go back to work. Ruth confided in Tom in a letter dated April 16, 1929 that she did not feel inspired. A week later, she offended Diaghilev when he learnt she had independently asked Giorgi Balanchivadze (1904-1983) – soon to be known as George Balanchine – after Diaghilev had hired him to be choreographer for the Ballets Russes.

On April 27, 1928, she danced “Terpsichore” in Bolm’s Apollon Musegates, commissioned by the Sprague Coolidge Foundation, at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Apollon Musegates would later become world famous with its Paris premiere on June 12, 1928 by Ballets Russes choreographed by Balanchine.

In the summer of 1928, she performed at the 3rd season of the Ravinia Opera. For the Children’s Matinee, she choreographed Moonlight Sailing, Circus, Coquette-1899, and George Gershwin’s Prelude in Blue.

Bolm was dumbfounded when she accepted an invitation to dance at the coronation ceremonies of Emperor Hirohito (known posthumously as Emperor Shōwa). This was the beginning of a voyage from the Orient to the Occident with Tom and her parents.

In October of 1928, she performed solo dances and duets with Edwin Strawbridge at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo. A dance solo in Peking (now called Beijing) in November followed.

From, there, her party continued to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. All along the way, she filmed and took notes on dances she witnessed and collected artifacts.

In the summer of 1929, she performed in the 4th season of the Ravinia Opera and choreographed Sun-Worshippers (later known as Oak Street Beach), with music by Clarence Loomis, as well as The Flapper Goes Oriental and Japanese Print for the Children’s Matinee. On November 1, 1929, she performed for the first time Two Balinese Rhapsodies, Gershiniana (Prelude No. 1) and St. Louis Blues at the Chicago Women’s Club.

On November 17, 1929, she performed a duet with Strawbridge at the Guild Theatre in New York City, Sentimental Melody. Twelve days later, she was back in Chicago to perform with Frank Porter at the Civic Theatre.

On February 21, 1930, she performed Indian Hill at the Skokie School in north suburban Winnetka. Later that year, she performed six solos in Moscow, sponsored by the Sophil Society, which she recounted in “From Propaganda to Art.” She met at sea the Austrian expressionist dancer Harald Kreutzberg and his pianist Friedrich (Fritz) Wilckens.

That summer, she choreographed one of her biggest hits, Bolero (Iberian Monotone). In February of 1931, she danced “Princess” in an early production of Stavinsky’s l’Histoire du Soldat.

That summer, she introduced her ballet Cinderella at Ravinia. She had commissioned the music from Marcel Delannoy.

In February of 1932, she performed at the Sociedad Pro-Arte Musicale in Havana, at the same time as George Gershwin. She would perform there again in 1940.

In the summer of 1932, she studied with Kreutzberg at Salzburg. The Japanese-American artist and set designer Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988) collaborated with her for the avant-garde dance Expanding Universe, which premiered on November 2, 1932 in Fargo, North Dakota.

The composer Louis Horst (1884-1964) accompanied her on the piano on January 29, 1933 when she performed a full program of her dances at the John Golden Theatre in New York City. The next month, she danced with Kreutzberg.

That summer, she staged La Guilablesse at the Auditorium Theatre during Chicago’s second World’s Fair, A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933-34). She was the only White dancer in what was otherwise an all-Black ballet.

They used a score she had commissioned from the Black composer William Grant Still (1895-1978) seven years earlier. It premiered on June 16, 1933.

Isaac Van Grove, with whom she would collaborate again twenty years later, directed when she danced Bolero at the Cincinnati Zoological Park. From 1934 to 1945, she worked intermittently with the Chicago Opera Company, also known as the Chicago City Opera Company.