Company: Reviews: 2012: Janet Anderson for City Paper

Last Dance, Jeanne Ruddy’s finale performance.

May 10, 2012

When the curtain comes down on Jeanne Ruddy Dance’s performance at Suzanne Roberts Theater on Saturday, it won’t be simply closing out the season. It will be the finale of the venerable modern-dance company after a 12-year run.

Jeanne Ruddy is a slender, radiant woman with long, blond hair who was once a principal dancer with the Martha Graham Company. At age 58, she looks younger than some of her dancers, and she's beautiful to watch in motion. Until the late ’90s, Ruddy’s career was firmly planted in New York City, where she premiered many Graham works, danced with Yul Brynner on Broadway in The King and I, directed the modern department of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, taught at Juilliard for nearly a decade and had her own small dance troupe.

Then her husband, Victor, was offered a prestigious job at a law firm in Philadelphia in 1993. For years, Jeanne continued to teach at Juilliard, commuting back and forth between Philly and New York. But after surviving breast cancer in 1999, Jeanne was overwhelmed with visions of mortality. Everything except her husband seemed ephemeral, and she put roots down here.

“All my pieces come from my personal life experience,” says Ruddy. Her cancer scare gave her a new outlook on life and dance, and she used the experience to choreograph Significant Soil, which premiered at the company’s debut season in 2000 and has since become one of Ruddy’s signatures. The piece takes its name from the biblical parable of the sower — some of the seeds falling on stone and dying, others falling onto fertile soil and flourishing. “Cancer actually was a gift," she comments. "It taught me mortality was right there. I came out on the other side—with my solo.”

As Jeanne and Victor explored their Fairmount neighborhood, they came across an old auto-body shop, formerly a stable, on Brandywine Street near 15th. The couple bought the garage and transformed the humble building near the Spring Garden and Broad subway stop into one of the best live-arts spaces in the city—this was years before the city had set its sights on reviving Broad as an Avenue of the Arts.

“I set a goal for myself,” says Ruddy. “It was an opportunity to create new work, inviting in visiting dancer-choreographers.” In 2006, the space opened as the Performance Garage, named in honor of its former life.

The company’s final performances will include Game Drive, a dance inspired by a recent safari in Kenya that’s set to music by Curtis professor and recent Pulitzer-winner Jennifer Higdon. Without the responsibility of managing a company, Ruddy’s looking forward to doing some more traveling with her husband—perhaps, she says, to China. Hopefully this will spark more work as enjoyable as Game Drive from Ruddy, who says she has no intention of retiring—she’s just moving on to solo projects..