Jeanne Ruddy Dance

June 17, 2004

Jeanne Ruddy Dance
Mandell Theatre, Drexel University

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

June 17–19, 2004

Reviewed by Nicole Plett


The founding mothers of American modern dance gave us a hard act to follow: Originality and innovation are not just options, they are imperatives. Jeanne Ruddy, whose artistic experience includes years as a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, presented four premieres in which choreographic craft rarely rose to match creative ambition. Of the program’s three choreographers, only Broadway luminary Ann Reinking managed to do justice to the talents of Ruddy’s top-notch, twelve-member ensemble.

Reinking’s Songs Without Words, a jazz-infused, abstract study of young love set to a variegated jazz score by Dudley Moore, is a sensuous work, ignited by the smoldering virtuosity of partners Sun-Mi Cho and guest artist Zane Booker. Its bold expressive trajectory was marked by the duo’s convoluted coupling and compelling ensemble passages for three couples and three chairs.

Out of the Mist, Above the Real is Ruddy’s ambitious group work inspired by Romantic painter Thomas Cole’s 1842 series The Voyage of Life. Ruddy’s visualization features a red-robed female voyager at life’s four stages. The cooperative 3-year-old Noa Buzby danced the nascent voyager, carried on her guardian’s shoulder at one point like a joyful trophy. Student dancer Juliette Snyder gave a sensitive, self-possessed performance as the young girl, and Brigitta Herrmann was chilling as the dancer in the twilight of life.

Like Cole’s kitsch paintings, the dance is liberally populated by angels: A gold-draped figure opens each section, leading a processional group that glides in as if in a boat, and a white-robed Renée Robinson-Buzby dances throughout—part angelic mother, part guardian angel. Although some strong compositional moments emerge, such as when corps members roll along the floor, moving the young girl across their backs like driftwood on a choppy sea, Ruddy’s choreography is limited in range and tends toward the sentimental. Her Graham-based vocabulary eschews real weighted movement or Graham’s percussive punctuation.

Ruddy’s movement invention was best seen in Falling In . . .. In a flamenco-tinged character study amplified by a powerful second-position base and dynamic floor work, soloist Janet Pilla’s manipulation of her long skirt and shawl—black lace lined in red—created a vivid visual and kinesthetic effect.

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