Company: Reviews: 2008: Rita Felciano

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Jeanne Ruddy brings a master to Philly

By Rita Felciano, Spring, 2008
for Dance Magazine

When Jeanne Ruddy was a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company in the 1980s, she encountered the work of German choreographer Susanne Linke. "I don't even remember the name of the piece," she says. What she saw later, Le Coq Est Mort for the African all-male Jant-Bi Company at Jacob's Pillow in 2000, and Extreme Beauty for the women of the Limon Dance Company in 2004, increased her determination to learn more. "Her pieces are so accessible and you can get into her thought," says Ruddy. "I wanted to work with her."

In summer 2006, Ruddy took Linke's workshop at the Impulstanz festival in Vienna and invited her to Philadelphia to meet the 10 dancers of Jeanne Ruddy Dance. In October the choreographer spent two weeks working with the ensemble and giving class open to other dancers. April 10-13 and 17-19 Ruddy will present a Linke world premiere at the Performance Garage.

Born in 1944 in Luneburg, Germany, Linke is one of the last students of German Expressionist choreographer Mary Wigman still working. "Technique I learned somewhere else," Linke has said. "Mary gave me life." As a choreographer directing the Folkwang Dance Studio (founded by Kurt Jooss), Linke became known for her expressionistic solos and works based on the lives of ordinary people.

Last October, Linke put a dozen or so dancers, primarily from the Ruddy company, through a set of exercises that emphasized stillness and simplicity. "It looks easy, but it is not," she said to the class. With the torso erect, arms loosely swinging at the side, the dancers appeared to glide on an even plane as if on a plate of glass. Yet they were animated, breathing through Linke's "four eyes": the pelvis, the area between the shoulder blades, the eyes, and the back of the head (from which, as in Kundalini yoga, the energy rises out of the body.)

Linke seemed pleased. "You can tell that they have had Graham training," she says. She explains that, different as Graham and Wigman were, a deeply centered, breath-supported body was integral to both. It's a difficult approach for today's dancers, trained in ballet or isolation techniques. Sometimes, she says, she has to do "brainwashing" in order to instill the idea that the movement originates inside, and that the dancer is a unit body, mind, and spirit. "But these dancers get it, they are centered and they breathe."

Later in the morning, to prepare for a lecture demonstration and see how fast the group learns material, she rehearses an excerpt of her 1981 Frauenballett (Women's Ballet), inspired by the lives of poor women in Argentina. Soon these dancers, who probably have never scrubbed a floor on their knees or carried stones on their backs, look bone-tired. Then they rise, radiating with pride and a sense of female community.

"It was everything and more," Ruddy beamed after the residency. "The company embraced her style, her intensity, and the precision of her movement demands."