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For Jeanne Ruddy Dance, last bows, next steps

Many in Philadelphia’s dance community were stunned in November when former Martha Graham principal dancer Jeanne Ruddy announced plans to disband her modern dance company. But Janet Pilla, a dancer with the company since 2001 and one of its two associate artistic directors, was less taken aback. She’d been through this before — three times, in fact.

Many in Philadelphia's dance community were stunned in November when former Martha Graham principal dancer Jeanne Ruddy announced plans to disband her modern dance company.

But Janet Pilla, a dancer with the company since 2001 and one of its two associate artistic directors, was less taken aback. She'd been through this before — three times, in fact.

"The truth is I'm never surprised about things like that," she said, "because I've danced with a lot of dance companies. And for one reason or another … it's just hard to keep going for too long."

Audience members will get one more chance to see Jeanne Ruddy Dance this weekend, when it performs its final season at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. The program includes the 2004 piece Out of the Mist, Above the Real, in which Ruddy will perform; MonTage a Trois, which premiered in 2011 at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts; and a new work, Game Drive, based on Ruddy's safari in Kenya, with a score by the Philadelphia composer Jennifer Higdon.

"You just try to be grateful for things when it's there, and then try to learn from the experience after it's gone," said Pilla, 51, who has dance work lined up through October and another possibility for next year. And after that? "Every round you have to re-qualify yourself, re-quantify yourself."

Even before the announcement, Pilla had seen signs that the end might be near.

"In the work that we've done, there has kind of been an arc. And it seems like the way it was presented to me was that Jeanne felt like she accomplished what she wanted to do and was ready to do new projects."

Pilla is right, says Ruddy, 59. "I have feelings of sadness; it feels quite final in terms of the company. However, there are things that I am looking forward to." These include outside choreographic projects, teaching, writing, and a long trip to China with her husband.

But even after the curtain comes down, Ruddy and her seven dancers have several months of work ahead of them, archiving the works set on the company over the past 12 years — 10 of Ruddy's own choreography and seven pieces commissioned from others. This means dancing and describing their roles on video so future companies can restage the works.

"Jeanne's going through them and writing a dialog for the dancers," said Christine Taylor, 48, the other associate artistic director, who has been with Ruddy since 1999, before there was a company. "And so it's things, for example, that may be covered by a costume, steps that are blocked, entrances that aren't on the film, handholds for lifts that you can't see."

"We'll break it down in very highly visible rehearsal clothes," Pilla added. "Clean lines, bright colors, so that you can say to a dancer, 'Follow the girl in red.' "

All that comes with a big price tag. The overall costs for closing the company, which includes career transitions for the dancers and staff, paperwork, and the archiving project, is estimated at $200,000. Ruddy was just turned down for a grant to help make that happen.

Even without extra money, "we can probably archive all of my works that I set on the company," she said. "But if funding isn't there, we will have to bring some of our expectations down a little."

And when the winding-down is done, they'll all move on.

The next step for Thayne Alexandra Dibble will complete a circle that started when she was a high school senior at Friends Select. She wanted to learn modern dance so she could audition for Juilliard, and her dance teacher pointed her toward Ruddy. "I didn't get in [to Juilliard], but I talked with Jeanne" and was invited to perform with the company, she said. "When one door closed, another door opened."

Dibble was able to dance professionally while pursuing a degree in classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, from which she will graduate Monday. Then she'll join Angela Corosanite, the dance teacher who sent her to Ruddy, at String Theory Schools. Corosanite, who is CEO, has hired her 24-year-old former student to work at String Theory, which manages performing arts charter schools.

Gabrielle Revlock, 28, has plenty to look forward too. She does her own choreographic projects, dances elsewhere — she went straight from rehearsal to the airport last week to perform in Seattle with SCUBA, a multi-city touring dance project — and has a part-time job at Dance/USA Philadelphia. She also teaches hula hooping to first, second, and third graders at the Philadelphia School. ("I think it's going well — somebody cries every time, but I'm not going to let that bother me.")

Two dancers joined Ruddy even as she was planning to dissolve the company.

Jennifer Yackel, 26, came to Philadelphia from Albany, N.Y., seeking big-city life and proximity to family in Maryland. She said she'll stick around, look for other dance jobs, and see if this is where she wants to settle.

Jerome L. Stigler, 29, never actually relocated, opting to commute from New York four days a week because he wanted to work with the Graham-based company. "It's hard but easygoing," he said of Jeanne Ruddy Dance. "It's kind of a contradiction, but the dancers know what I mean. Exquisite pain."

But there will be work for him in New York, too.

"I'm a guy," he said. "We have it pretty easy in dance."

Contact writer Ellen Dunkel at

Jeanne Ruddy Final Season 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard Streets. Tickets: $25-$130 (Saturday only), Information: