A Decade of Dance with Jeanne Ruddy

Ann Reinking. Robert Battle. Jane Comfort. Mark Dendy. Susanna Linke. Martha Clarke.  All among the most innovative choreographers in dance today. And each has been introduced to Philadelphia audiences over the past decade through Jeanne Ruddy Dance. From its humble beginning in 2000 with 5 dancers, created out of founder and artistic director (and former Martha Graham principal) Jeanne Ruddy’s experience as a cancer survivor and her commitment to return to the stage, Jeanne Ruddy Dance has grown into one of Philadelphia’s premier contemporary companies, noted for the excellence of its dancers as well as its creativity and success mounting original works by some of the most preeminent choreographers on the dance landscape, including Ruddy herself.

To mark the Company’s milestone 10th Anniversary Season, April 8-11, 2010, JRD will present 3 works showcasing a retrospective that spans the decade from the Company’s inception through today, both  highlighting the growth of the Company’s depth and range, and revealing the repertory legacy developed over the last ten years by Ruddy herself. For the first time since opening its own headquarters, The Performance Garage, at 1515 Brandywine Street, the Company will be performing at the Wilma Theater on the Avenue of the Arts, coming full-circle back to the venue where they presented their premiere season.

The three works on the program will include:

  • SIGNIFICANT SOIL (View Video), Ruddy’s signature piece and the first – now iconic — work created for her own company that was developed out of her celebration of survival from breast cancer, illustrating how life takes on new meaning after faced with the possibility of death.
  • BREATHLESS (ViewVideo), the powerfully haunting work that brings the issue of domestic violence from the newsroom to the stage. Born out of Ruddy’s exploration of the ominous qualities of water influenced by Theodore Dreiser’s classic masterwork, An American Tragedy, the work was informed and inspired by the real life stories of murder victims Laci Peterson, Stefanie Rabinowitz and Anne-Marie Fahey, and the similarities between the three cases. Illustrating the well-being of women in a society filled with threats, BREATHLESS explores the dark side of the American Dream that has become a harsh reality of contemporary life, and lays bare these women’s doomed pursuit of love and success.
  • LARK (view video), Ruddy’s abstract work of lightness and elegance that premiered to rave reviews last season, based on a re-imagined new score by composer/collaborator, Ellen Fishman-Johnson, of Joseph Haydn’s masterwork String Quartet No. 5 in D Major, that seeks to define “what we can all relate to in our universal longing to connect.” In a departure from her pure narrative work, Ruddy sought to explore movement that delves into both the negative and positive space between us in an abstract form. Responding to the intricacies of the music, LARK bridges the gap from the 18th century of Hayden’s time to Ruddy’s 21st century world.

While Ruddy has reached out to choreographers based on talent and quality of work and her keen instinct about who would best meld with her dancers and her own vision without regard for gender, she has also purposefully explored issues and points of view from a feminine perspective — from fighting and surviving breast cancer to highlighting abuse against women, rescuing and nurturing the environment and providing a platform and canvas for a trio of the most sought-after female choreographers working today.

“This year’s season presents a decidedly feminine perspective,” says Ruddy, “one that tries to speak from the heart and mind, not to mention a dose of spirit. The last work, my latest, titled LARK, resolves the difficulties and concentrates on the “longing to connect” in all our relationships.”  It also reaches beyond the choreography, with the collaboration of a local woman composer, Ellen Fishman-Johnson, whose work on both LARK and the re-staging of BREATHLESS has garnered praise by audiences and critics alike.

Said Fishman Johnson, “For BREATHLESS, I scored to completed choreography captured on video. It was a challenging work to score because the theme of violence toward women was difficult to live with every day. Luckily, Jeanne had found a balance between the subtle and violent interactions of the three couples. For LARK, since the Haydn was one of the first string quartets I studied as a student, it was a wonderful opportunity to pay homage to my classical training while interpreting this masterpiece through the lens of my current musical language. Since the score was created before the dance, I had new pressures of getting each movement completed on a timetable set up previously. But I remember laughing at the variations I made of the Haydn and the material felt joyous to me.”

Ruddy’s exploration beyond traditional music paradigms has also been a key element of growth. For the original production of BREATHLESS, her collaboration with composer Jorge Cousineau, who created the original score, provided a new and challenging experience, as she choreographed in silence for the first time, prior to Cousineau shaping the sound to the dancers’ movement. In a unique multi-media twist, the choreography also placed the dancers in front of projections of images of water by noted photographer Bob Emmott.

In no small part, Ruddy’s background – both in Graham technique and as a cancer survivor – has informed her work and her Company’s mission. Over the past decade, JRD has explored the historical spectrum of modern dance through high-quality works choreographed by Ruddy and a host of prominent choreographers. Fearlessly, she has stretched the boundaries of her own and her guest choreographers’ vision, increasing the power, impact, and drama of particular moments in dance by integrating such elements as improvisation, vocalization, interpretation, and theatrical movement; as well as the utilization of alternative processes and approaches in the creation, rehearsal, and performance of new work. As the risks have grown, so have the dancers’ freedom, range, comfort and fluency with improvisational and theatrical techniques – never more visible than over the last three seasons working with performance artist Jane Comfort, German expressionist Susanna Linke and dance theatre innovator Martha Clarke, as well as Ruddy’s own recent production of LARK.

From the performance of one work ten years ago, to an annual concert season, outreach programs, workshops, lecture demonstrations, touring and more, not to mention the renovation and creation of the Company’s studio headquarters, Jeanne Ruddy Dance has been on a trajectory of growth – both artistic and institutional – creating works that continue to expand the vocabulary and genre as well as the numbers and diversity of its audience.

Established in 1998, with a commission of one work by Israeli choreographer Igal Perry, Jeanne Ruddy Dance provides audiences with world-class performances of works by noted contemporary choreographers as well as Ruddy herself, as a mainstay of the region’s dance community, continuing each season to explore diverse styles and techniques.  The company’s renovated studio headquarters at 1515 Brandywine Street, THE PERFORMANCE GARAGE, together with outreach and touring, supports JRD’s mission to support the professional dance community by providing access to its home and support rehearsal and performance needs, provide professional training of the highest quality, and to help the community enrich their lives through dance.

Jeanne Ruddy Dance’s 10th Concert Season will be presented at the Wilma Theater, Broad & Spruce Streets, Thursday, April 8 – Sunday April 11. Performance times are: Thursday, April 8 at 7:30pm (Opening Night and Gala); Friday April 9 at 11am (children’s matinee) and 8pm (incl. a post-performance discussion); Saturday April 10 at 3pm and 8pm, and Sunday April 11 at 3pm. Tickets are $25.00, $15 for students, seniors and dance rofessionals. For further information, please call 215. 569.4060 or visit

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