Jeanne Ruddy, you made it too hard to say goodbye.
Audience members have one last chance to see Jeanne Ruddy Dance, on Saturday at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, before the curtain comes down and the company disbands.
Its final season opened Thursday night with a trio of dancer/choreographer Ruddy's own works: MonTage a Trois, which premiered in 2011 at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts; the world premiere of Game Drive, set to music by Philadelphia's Jennifer Higdon, and 2004's Out of the Mist, Above the Real. Each seemed even better than the one before.
I saw MonTage — set to music by Debussy and Erik Satie — in 2011 when it was a site-specific work at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Surprisingly, it works even better outside the galleries; in the intimate theater, it became clearer that the dancers were the paintings and sculptures, not just tiny beings bouncing around a large white space.
It was fun to match up the dancers with the Elizabeth Osborne paintings projected onto the back of the stage, as well as themes frequently seen in art: fruit, an archer, a circle of dancers, nudes (this time the dancers wore beige leotards). Gabrielle Revlock, who teaches hula hooping to schoolchildren, wore a glittery blue gown and danced as a statue with a hoop.
The new Game Drive, to Higdon's lively Zaka, was pure fun, as Revlock and Rick Callender played over-the-top tourists on safari, falling over each other to point out game: Thayne Alexandra Dibble, Jerome Stigler, and Jennifer Yackel loping around like baboons, preening like birds, leaping like gazelles, slinking around the dark like big cats, and swinging imaginary trunks like elephants.
But the most beautiful, emotional piece of the evening was Out of the Mist, Above the Real, a boat journey through the stages of life, set to Daniel Brewbaker's Irish Cantata and based on Thomas Cole's four-painting series "The Voyage of Life."
It featured the full cast, but it was almost impossible to take in the company dancers when the soloists performed. Zoe Shae Buzby, 3, as Childhood, nearly stole the show with her platinum hair, huge smiles, fearlessness, and amazing focus. Sophia Davis, 10, was Youth, performing similar movements but with the lines and control of a talented young dancer.
Ruddy further developed the progression in a solo for herself as Middle Age, perhaps less lithe than the younger dancers, but just as beautiful. Stately Brigitta Herrmann, 70-year-old cofounder of Group Motion, played Old Age, taking those same movements down several notches, dancing more with arms than legs.
All too soon, Renee Robinson-Buzby as the guardian angel, and Christine Taylor, in a long gold dress as the boat, ushered her off.
An appropriate symbol, as the 12-year journey of Jeanne Ruddy Dance also went by too quickly.
Contact writer Ellen Dunkel at email@example.com.
Dance Jeanne Ruddy Final Season 8 p.m. Saturday at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard Streets. Tickets: $25-$130 (Saturday only), www.etix.com. Information: www.ruddydance.org.