Twelve years ago Jeanne Ruddy introduced herself and her dancing cohorts at the Wilma Theater, where she performed significant soil, a dance statement of Ruddy's own battle with cancer, a theme not often, if ever, used as a dance. Dancers wearing red moved in and out of red cloth stretched across the stage.
Ten years later, Jeanne expanded soil into a full company production for her "Decade of Dance" celebration. As a former Martha Graham principal dancer, Ruddy retained and uses some of the high drama that Graham liked to inject into her choreography.
Those of us who saw Breathless when it was first staged in 2008 know that Ruddy was always capable of making a dance out of tragedy. Here female dancers were dispatched one by one to watery graves, while we in the audience watched film that showed the dancer victims underwater, hair flowing out around their heads in the water, some with eyes open— a vision that was simultaneously gruesome and at the same time oddly beautiful.
Yet unlike Graham, with her love of Greek mythology, Ruddy looks to the newspaper and TV to find her dramas. It's well to keep in mind that Ruddy has ever turned the tragedies of daily life as we know it into a dance subject. Yet she's retained a light touch as well. Lark is just one example of her joyful movement and happy subject matter, with dancers balanced on one leg, the other bent at the knee, looking like a lovely flock of beautiful birds.
For her final local performance, Jeanne showcased her troupe in three works that represented the variety and poetry of her oeuvre. Montage Ó Trois was originally created to be performed at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as a contribution to last spring's Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. This beautiful blend of art work and dance looked just as wonderful with the Elisabeth Osborne paintings projected onto a screen with dancers moving in front of the paintings as it did when the dance was performed before and with the actual paintings. In some ways it worked better with the projected images.
Out of the Mist, Above the Real (2004) represented the stages of life: Childhood, Youth, Middle Age and Old Age, as well as a Guardian Angel and a Boat. (Prints of Thomas Cole's The Four Voyages of Life were displayed in the lobby.) "Childhood" featured the tiny, three-year-old blond Zoe Shae Buzby, daughter of one of Ruddy's dancers. This little miss seemed fearless as she was carried around the stage. Little Miss Zoe actually threatened to steal the show as she waved and smiled while balancing on shoulders and being carried off stage in a boat formed by the linked arms of two dancers, to laughter and applause from the audience.
"Youth" was Sophia Davis, somewhat older than Zoe but just as charming. Then came "Middle Age," with Ruddy performing an exquisite solo, looking anything but middle-aged as she moved about in swirling red draperies. Or maybe middle age looks better than we think.
"Old Age" was performed by Brigitta Herrman, one of Philadelphia's stellar older performers, which is not to say she looks or acts old, but that she's a theatrical pillar of dignity and talent. The Guardian Angel was Renee Robinson-Buzby, little Zoe's mother, who carried her beautiful little daughter off stage with her standing on her mother's shoulders, waving, smiling and clearly having a wonderful time.
Ruddy says that everything she choreographs comes out of her own life experience. Thus the farewell evening ended with Game Drive, which was inspired by a recent trip she and her husband took to Kenya. Rick Callender and Gabrielle Revlock performed as the couple, dressed in safari outfits, looking through binoculars, jumping in excitement when some intriguing animal was sighted. Those who looked closely would have seen movement references to giraffes (yes, really) and baboons and even a section Ruddy called "Variation on a Jeep."
How do I know the meaning of these references? I sat in on many rehearsals and had the pleasure of watching Ruddy transform an exciting vacation into a wonderful dance.
Jeanne Ruddy leaves us on a high note. She and her husband are planning to visit China next. Maybe she'll be inspired to give us an Oriental dance when she returns.