PIFA REVIEW – Jeanne Ruddy’s MonTage A TroisApr 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Reviews
MonTage A Trois, “the joyous merging of ART, MUSIC, DANCE” is the title and ineluctable motif of lyrical site-specific world premiere performance by the vibrant and prolific Jeanne Ruddy Dance Company, her full-length choreographic new work gracefully executed and performed within the spacious, historic Annenberg and Tuttleman Galleries of PAFA’s Hamilton Building, as part of the 2011 Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts.
Proving to adhere solidly to this direct and clear motive, this first ever site-specific piece allowed the inherent richness of multi-disciplinary contributing elements to support the grace and purity of design and connectedness of musical, visual, dance, and lighting textures throughout. Ruddy’s choreography does not so much take center stage here, as the collective invitation of the dancers, to explore the richness of the visual space, opening in restrained glamour, in a processional leading up the central stairway, to usher the audience into the galleries.
The constellations of movement, and seamless choreographic flow, highlight an outpouring of feeling, technical prowess, which celebrate the contours of the human body. Imbued in the work of each primary artist, a restrained classicism allowed the dancers to revel embodied in the rare illumination provided by the silken, sheer costumes of Jeffrey Wirsing – with colors fashioned to exactly match the brightly dreamlike, vivid colors of paintings by Elizabeth Osborne. Long recognized by critics and her peers as one of the most innovative and daring Philadelphia-based artists of the last forty years (born 1936) she “has tirelessly explored the psychologically-charged space between abstraction and realism.” Osborne studied at PAFA (1954-58) and has been a faculty member since 1963.
Enduring classic shapes, with vivid hues, characterize Osborne’s work. The dance felt as if boundless energy and inspiration, available in the meeting of artistic elements: delicate shades of light, piercing physical forms and color palette, along with the sophistication and devotion to classicism inherent in the neoclassicism of Debussy, Satie, and Stravinsky, all allowed the movement itself, and the presence of the dancers, individually and collectively, to shine.
Ruddy, present as a striking figure in the audience, attentively invited audience to enter various wings of the space, encouraging a gentle progression, which characterized the evening. In a 2-year process, she began with the music, to then create a “viable evening of ups and downs, highs and lows,” pairing each painting with the correct feeling, and eventually the 3: music, dance, and painting, would merge. Ironically, she suggests the artists of Paris 1910-20, not by herself “twisting and breaking the rules of creativity, redefining what the world recognized as art” as articulated in the PIFA website depiction of this revolutionary time, but by adhering to the celebration of a classic collaborative approach to the artistic process, with careful selection of dancers, costume, props, visual art, and contemporary, but classically-rooted original music composition. With understated command of the space and modern dance techniques, Ruddy allows the dancers to shine, with the lush, revamped variations by the expressive Austrian quartet Amarcord Wien, of Satie’s Gnossiennes, creating an undeniable undercurrent of romanticism as well.
Montage is the combination in a single composition, of pictorial elements from various sources, where each element can retain its separate identity as a means of adding interest or meaning to the composition. And indeed the visual palette was striking and verdant with texture, color and beauty, with blues, eerie green, and brilliant red, as in the painterly landscapes of Matisse or Chagall; the eyes could flit from silken sashes and sudden jugglers, and a brief punctuation of laughter, as in the first Friday art walk, to the musical dynamics of the video design of Ellen Fishman-Johnson, primarily a composer, who orchestrated the paintings of Osborne to turn into water, or merge – one into the other, in coordination with the dance.
Dancers Rick Callender, Melissa Chisena, Thayne Alexandra Dibble, Janet Pilla, Gabrielle Revlock, Sean Rosswell, and Christine Taylor, together bestow the ease of spacious awareness and fluidity, of trained, natural physicality and intelligent presence, attuned to musical and aesthetic textures, here so clearly delineated by the ebb and flow of mood, color, and harmony.
Janet Pilla characteristically conveyed unstudied virtuosity, a dreamlike clarity, with a painting of a pastel, planetary edge, with the strains of Renee Fleming singing Debussy, in shadowed lighting masterfully lit, with a light touch, by lighting designer Peter Jakubowski, who afterwards informed the audience of his task to light the space with LED lights, with only a fraction of the electricity available in the galleries, compared to a typical theater space.
In a solo sequence, perched on a pedestal, Gabrielle Revlock, enclosed in a fitted sparkling blue gown, moved, statuesque, a revolving hula-hoop figure, luminous, ending in stillness, but quite alive, as audience was escorted on into the next gallery scene. A seamless flow, like the ebb and flow of tides, or casting of shadows into the “theater” characterized the entire evening, and much of the audience remained standing, entranced, surrounding the outskirts of the space, and beautifully outlined on the walls around the performance spaces, as if reluctant to re-enter the usual invisible dividing line between performer and spectator. The elusive, wistful strains of Satie’s Gnossiennes echoed a recurring refrain.
The most memorable moment was perhaps the final image, wherein the artist entered the space, with easel and dark gown, an elegant sparkling necklace and brush in hand, turning with rich expectance towards the dancers, with eyes sparkling, and experienced eyes cast over all, as the lights were extinguished; the poignancy of explored spaces, and a new beginning, to usher the rapt, starry-eyed viewers all back out into the brightly lit Philadelphia night.