Last dance looms for Jeanne Ruddy company

One of Philadelphia’s premiere modern dance companies will dissolve next year. It’s not because the company is broke.


Before starting Jeanne Ruddy Dance in Center City 12 years ago, Jeanne Ruddy cut her teeth as a principal dancer with Martha Graham, considered one of the most important modern choreographers in the world.

“She embodies our connection directly to Martha Graham’s legacy,” said Lois Welk, director of Dance USA Philadelphia. “It’s a training technique. It’s a way of handling the language of the body. She is an expert in that method of movement. It’s a technique that is not often accessible in the current dance culture.”

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For Ruddy, Graham has been something to embrace, and escape.

“Sometimes I really have to beat Martha Graham out of my head and get her editing out of my head as much as possible,” said Ruddy. “I do that with play. It helps free the mind of the structures of things that have been so deeply instilled in me.”

Jeanne Ruddy Dance is based in the Performance Garage, a venue off North Broad Street owned by Ruddy and her husband. The company has been creating its own original dance works and presenting works by choreographers from outside Philadelphia.

Ruddy started the company immediately after recovering from breast cancer. It stumbled during the recent recession.

“We almost went under in ’09,” said Ruddy. “I had no interest to fold the company. I fought tooth and nail to come back. And we did. This decision has nothing to do with stress, financially. We have a surplus, and money in the bank.”

Completing a cycle

The final performance by Jeanne Ruddy Dance will be in May. After that, Ruddy will begin the laborious process of archiving documents, videos, and notebooks so her dances can be re-created by future generations.

Dance is one of the more ephemeral arts. There is no script, score, or diagram that can capture choreography entirely. There is a system of written notation called labanotation, which Ruddy says is prohibitively expensive.

“It lives in the bodies and minds of the dancers who danced,” said Ruddy. “That is precious, and faulty. But it is the way we do it, passed from generation to generation.”

After the company dissolves, Ruddy says she will continue to create dance, without the responsibilities and obligations of heading a company.

The emotions of closing shop are complex. The day after making the announcement, facing an unknown future without her company, Ruddy still seemed shaky.

But she pressed on.

“We have completed a cycle that seems positive,” Ruddy resolved. “We are getting good press, feeling strong in fiscal health. It’s a good time to finish. I feel ready.”

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