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Jeanne Ruddy – A Gracious Farewell

by Kat Richter, MA  for The Dance Journal

Amidst champagne and a celebratory crowd at the Suzanne Roberts Theater on Thursday night, the seven dancers of Jeanne Ruddy Dance emerged into the lobby to herald the start of the company’s farewell performance.  In feathered headdresses and high heels, the women preened while the men beckoned the audience to follow.  The costumes were bright and colorful, the movement fluid and pleasing to watch; the stage was set for an evening of pageantry and big ideas.

MonTage á Trois premiered at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts during last year’s Philadelphia International Festival of Arts.  Despite having been created specifically for the Academy’s galleries MonTage á Trois read equally well onstage thanks to large video projections of the work of artist Elizabeth Osborne.  The dancers interacted with the paintings, plucking a pair of flowers from one and stacking a trio of books to mirror another.  At times Ruddy’s choreography seemed to evoke Nijinsky; the dancers cavorted across the stage clad in loosely fitting robes like the nymphs of L’après-midi d’un faune and gestured in perfect unison with the music.  The high point of the piece, however, was a solo—or perhaps more accurately a duet— performed by dancer Gabrielle Revlock and her hula hoop.  This moment more than any other seemed to suggest the opulence of PIFA’s nod to Paris.

Next on the bill was Out of the Mist, Above the Real, a charming if bizarre meditation on the passing of time choreographed to Daniel Brewbaker’s Cantata and inspired by Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole’s The Four Voyages of Life.  An ambitious work, the piece involved a slew of guest artists including three year old Zoe Shae Buzby and her mother, Renée Robinson Buzby, student dancer Sophia Irene Davis and veteran performer Brigitta Herrmann whose portrayal of Old Age left no doubt of her training with German modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman.  It was in Out of the Mist that Ruddy herself took to the stage as Middle Age, dressed in a simple red gown of the same cut and style as those worn by her mentor Martha Graham.  Her angular tilts were strong and precise, providing an elegant farewell and a weighty counterpoint to the lighthearted swings of the three year old Buzby.

The evening concluded with the world premiere of Game Drive, a whimsical interpretation of the African safari.  The costumes made the anthropologist in me cringe—jaguar print with rhinestones and feathers?—but the khakis and sunglasses of the hapless tourists were just as silly, albeit in a good way.  Together they hopped across the stage pointing like a pair of cartoon characters, ever eager in their attempts to experience true African wildlife but always just a second too late.  The “animals” lept across the stage and experimented with various forms of partnering making for a charming, if slightly undercooked work.

Having never seen the company before, I was intrigued by the breadth of ideas Ruddy chose to tackle.  In a world that all too often seeks to divide the “true artists” from the “true thinkers,” Ruddy is both, from the careful selection and commissioning of new musical scores to the establishment of a Legacy Fund to document the company’s repertoire.  I am sad that Thursday night’s performance was both the first and last time I’ll see Jeanne Ruddy Dance.
Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist.  She holds and MA in Dance Anthropology and her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.

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