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Jeanne Ruddy Dance -

'The Sixth Season'

by Lori Ibay

April 22, 2006 2pm -- The Performance Garage, Philadelphia

Rain poured from the sky on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia, but smiles were bright inside The Performance Garage, Jeanne Ruddy Dance’s newly renovated performance space, which offered a cozy, intimate setting for an afternoon of dance -- and in which the company was presenting its annual Spring show for the first time.

The program began with Broadway choreographer Mark Dendy’s “No Fear of Flying,” set to music by Peggy Lee, Chopin, Doris Day, Nancy Sinatra, Loretta Lynn, and Australian Didjeridoo music, with text from Erica Jung’s novel, “Fear of Flying.”  Originally premiered by the company in 2001, this year’s reworking included a new segment inspired by ABC network’s television show, “Desperate Housewives.”

Three performers (Janet Pilla, Meredith Riley Stewart, and Renee Robinson-Buzby) wearing blonde Marilyn Monroe wigs, false eyelashes, and fire engine red lipstick began the piece in paper doll costumes, looking out at the audience with blank doll-like stares.  As they transformed seamlessly from stiff paper dolls to syrupy stewardesses to seductive temptresses and later to housewives in slippers -- with impressive and innovative use of their ironing boards -- the performers hilariously explored the roles of women, “moving from ‘Diva’ to ‘Really Desperate Housewives’” (program notes).

Original costumes were designed by Charlotte Cloe Fox.

The second piece, “The System,” choreographed by Janet Lilly and Peter Sparling, showcased the emotional range of dancers Janet Pilla and Ben Wegman as a couple attempting to share a life together, sometimes gravitating towards each other and often repelling each other.  With a musical score by Frank Prahl and spoken text by Charles Baxter (“The Feast of Love”) the dancers painted separate portraits that only occasionally dabbled in the same palette.

With contrast between the couple dancing together and as individuals, and with particular attention to the space and silences between them, the dancers told the story effectively.  Pilla and Wegman drew the audience in with their expressiveness, subtlety, and a shared sense of timing -- creating the impression that one was looking in through a couple’s bedroom window.  The effect was both poignant and captivating.

After a brief intermission, the company presented the world premiere of “Still,” choreographed by Robert Battle, Ruddy’s former student at Julliard, in his first collaboration with a Philadelphia company.  Set to music by Arvo Part with costumes by Jeffrey Wirsing and lighting by Peter J. Jakubowski, the piece for two couples “explores the fragmented aspects of love through abstract gestures…expressing the complexities and elusive journey of the heart” (program notes).

The four performers (Rick Callender, Gabrielle Revlock, Christine Taylor, and Ben Wegman) danced with energy and purpose -- sometimes still and motionless, sometimes with volatile speed, but never without intensity.  The movement was explosive, passionate, and unpredictable like a fervent love affair but the metallic sheer costumes with slitted sides gave a cold, remote feel to the piece. 

The next piece, Zvi Goetheiner’s “Enfold,” featured Sun-Mi Cho and Michael Miller performing an intimate duet, mostly while seated on a bench.  Within this narrow private space, with the music of 1940’s German cabaret singer Zarah Leander, the couple engaged the audience with their romantic allegory, their emotions as intricate as their often intertwined limbs.  The pair smoothly transitioned from entangled to nearly separate, and the piece ends with Cho leaving the bench and Miller following behind.

The performance closed with the world premiere of Jeanne Ruddy’s “Woa Cholena” (noted in the program to be Native American for “the great white bird”), set to Stravinsky’s “Concertina.”  Featuring Callendar as the soloist, with Revlock, Robinson-Buzby, and Stewart, the piece is plotless -- an “exploration of dance movement for movement’s sake,” as described in the press notes.  The ensemble’s airy fluidity and birdlike movements as they migrated across the space compensated for their unflattering white unitards, and Callendar brought an element of sentimentality to his role.  The piece ends with Callendar perched balancing on the shoulders of the flock.

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