PODCAST 167: Jeanne Ruddy
Release Date: 11.20.23
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Acrobats of God with Jeanne Ruddy
Episode 167: Show Notes.
While dance is often underfunded and under-recognized, leaders in the field acknowledge the incredible talent that lives within every dancer, reminding them that they are, in fact, ‘Acrobats of God’. Today’s guest embodies the purpose of the Movers and Shapers Dance Podcast; to share insights from those who shape the dance field, and create an archive that preserves rich, personal experiences across generations. During this episode, Jeanne Ruddy shares what it was like to be a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, and to work with Martha herself. You’ll also hear how she forged her own unique role in dance, how she encourages other artists to flourish, and her passion for nurturing future generations of dancers in Philadelphia. Tuning in, you’ll learn all about Jeanne’s journey as a dancer, and finding her way to creative expression thereafter. Join us to hear all about the highs and lows of our guest’s incredible career today.
Key Points From This Episode:
- An introduction to guest, Jeanne Ruddy, and the topics covered in this conversation.
- Her first experiences of dance and her lifelong love of music.
- The changing dance scene of the 1960s.
- Jeanne’s relationship with the dramatic aspects.
- The pivotal period of time for a dancer between 16 and 21.
- Her experience at North Carolina School of the Arts and Utah Repertory Dance Theatre.
- Traveling to New York and starting a company with no capital.
- Getting a huge break with Yuriko Kikuchi after auditioning with Getting to Know You.
- Being chosen to be in the Martha Graham Dance Company and enjoying a ten-year career.
- Why Martha would sit in the second wing, stage right, in a director’s chair, during performances.
- Martha’s relationship with the artists.
- Learning choreography from horrible 8mm film.
- The eventual decision to leave the company due to pain.
- Teaching at Sarah Lawrence, Connecticut College, and Florida State University.
- Why meeting Victor Keene at 39 changed Jeanne’s life.
- The birth of the Performance Garage.
- How her husband has facilitated the amazing work she has been able to do.
- Three phases of renovation that led to the Performance Garage’s current HQ.
- The program Jeanne currently facilitates for dancers.
- Reflections on the underappreciation for the art form of dance.
- What Martha Graham taught: dancers are acrobats of God.
- Upcoming events with the Moving Company.
“I walked out of Deaths and Entrances, I was definitely a child of the 60s, and I didn’t like it. Seven years later, I was playing one of the sisters in that very piece in Lincoln Centre. I loved it.” — Jeanne Ruddy
Jeanne Ruddy is a dance professional whose career has spanned six decades. Primarily a modern contemporary dance artist, her work has encompassed sacred dance, contemporary dance, Broadway, film, teaching, writing and choreography. Her work has influenced and touched generations of dancers and choreographers through her performances, her choreography and her teachings in the United States as well as in Germany, Russia, Brazil, and Cuba. She has established three dance companies over her career: Raintree Dance Harvest in Bloomington, Indiana, Jeanne Ruddy & Dancers in New York City, and Jeanne Ruddy Dance in Philadelphia. Her choreography combines compelling narratives about a variety of social issues such as abuse of women, climate change, navigating personal relationships and the universal voyage of life.
Her first professional job in New York was on the Bicentennial Tour of The King and I with Yul Brenner, where she later performed in the Broadway cast. Fulfilling a dream, she was chosen to become a member of the Martha Graham Company where she worked with Ms. Graham for a decade when Ms. Graham choreographed two new works a year for the Company’s New York seasons. Ruddy rose to Principal Dancer and was featured in the PBS Great Performances series in Graham’s Cave of the Heart. She also performed leading roles in such Graham works as Andromache’s Lament, Diversion of Angels, Deaths and Entrances, Seraphic Dialogue, Clytemnestra, Cortege of Eagles, Embattled Garden, Herodiade, and Appalachian Spring. At that time, the Graham Company toured four months of each year throughout the US, Europe, Mexico, and Canada playing the world’s most important stages. After leaving the Graham Company Ruddy was a guest professor at Connecticut College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Florida State University as well as accepting invitations for international congresses of dance and summer festivals in Brazil, Cologne, Germany, Moscow, Russia, and later Cuba. In the American Dance Festival in Moscow, Ruddy was the first to introduce the Graham Technique to Russian dancers at the Bolshoi and across Russia. Ruddy was invited to join the faculty of the Juilliard School Dance Division teaching the freshman and 2 senior classes while also serving as the scout for hopeful dancers auditioning across America. Concurrently, Ruddy taught at the Alvin Ailey School of American Dance and was promoted to Chair of the Contemporary Dance Department and was involved in the initial concept of the partnership with Fordham University for the creation of the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program.
Ruddy relocated to Philadelphia through marriage and founded Jeanne Ruddy Dance, a contemporary dance company that grew to eleven dancers performing and creating new work by Ruddy and other invited top-tier choreographers over thirteen years. The need for a rehearsal space to house the JRD Company created the Performance Garage. Co-founded by Ruddy, with her husband, Victor Keen, it is now Philadelphia’s home for dance with a 110-seat dance theater. It is a non-profit where Victor has served on the Board since its inception. Now, twenty-thousand people enjoy either classes, rehearsals, auditions, video shoots, or performances each year. Ruddy considers the creation of the Performance Garage her most important contribution to the field by supporting burgeoning dance companies and emerging independent choreographers to develop and further the art form. For her work with her company, Jeanne Ruddy Dance, and her work developing the Performance Garage, Ruddy received The Independence Foundation Fellowship Award in 2000. Other awards and grants include the National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America as well as the NEA’s Artistic Excellence award, three Pew Foundation Dance Advance awards, three William Penn Foundation grants, six Fels Foundation awards, nine years of support from the Independence Foundation, the Dolfinger McMahon, PECO—an Exelon Company, Land Services Inc,
Independence Blue Cross, and twenty years of support from the Suzanne F. Roberts Cultural Fund, among others. Ruddy received an endowed fund—the Martha LaVallee-Williams Community Outreach Fund for her Company’s work with their youth engagement program. To re-open the Performance Garage after the pandemic most essential were the Shuttered Venue Grant, and the Covid Relief Fund.
Connect with Jeanne Ruddy
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode:
Podcast produced by: The Moving Architects
Interviewer: Erin Carlisle Norton