Ruth Page’s “Modernist Turn” in Ballet Choreography, 1928–1933
New York dance critic Lucille Marsh extolled Ruth Page’s Ballet Scaffolding (1928) as “a perfect conception of the relation of the modern style of movement to the classic ballet” and “both a modern version of ballet and a ballet version of modernism. The balance was so perfectly preserved between the two that it ought once and for all to win the balletites over to the moderns and the moderns to the balletites.” The Chicago ballerina and choreographer was a boundary-crosser, if ever there was one. In this presentation, we focus on Page’s incorporation of modernist techniques, including the use of masks, objects, and sack-like costumes to extend the body in space, to disrupt conventional body contours, and to map out new movement possibilities. The centerpiece of our lecture-demonstration is our 2017 re-creation of Page’s Expanding Universe (1932), performed in a “sack” reconstructed after Isamu Noguchi’s original design. We also reveal archival evidence (photographs, films, costume designs) to demonstrate Page’s modernist turn.
In this REVISIONIST HISTORY, we propose that, during the years 1928–1933, Page pioneered the process of incorporating modernist techniques into ballet choreography in the United States. Though trained by Anna Pavlova and Adolph Bolm, Page eagerly sought new influences, partnering with Austrian modern dancer Harald Kreutzberg and collaborating with visual artists who nudged her toward international modernism. Page’s brand of ballet modernism rejected neo-classicism and embraced ballet as dance theatre, showcasing relations between the dancing body and material design, and reinforcing ballet’s legacy as an intermedial art form.