This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
When Christopher Ruud tried on his costume for the role of Ferdinand in Ballet Westıs new production of "The Tempest," he found the faded outline of his name, "RUUD," already marked inside.
The tunic and tights shipped from California for "The Tempest" were worn by his father, Tomm Ruud, who danced the role of Ferdinand in the San Francisco Ballet's premiere production of the ballet in 1980.
As a principal artist at Ballet West, Christopher Ruud is accustomed to following in his father's footsteps as only a dancer can. He has danced several starring roles that Tomm Ruud performed during his tenure as a Ballet West principal artist in the 1960s and '70s. But "The Tempest" is different.
Tomm Ruud danced the role of Ferdinand during his stint as a San Francisco Ballet principal artist, where choreographer Michael Smuin created it for him; he also performed it in a nationally televised PBS production in 1981.
Smuin imbued the role with lyrical love duets, comic touches and a bit of showmanship. Those who have watched either Tomm or Christopher Ruud perform can rightly say that - like Ferdinand's costume - the role has the Ruud name written upon it.
Ballet West ballet master Bruce Caldwell, a former Ballet West dancer, shared the stage with Tomm Ruud at Ballet West. He said Christopher inherited his father's lively sense of humor, his perfectionist tendencies - and his short fuse.
"Both are very demanding of themselves and want the best all the time," Caldwell said. "Christopher can get into a little tizzy when it's not forthcoming. I just write that off to the Ruud namesake and take it with a grain of salt when it exhibits itself in the studio."
Caldwell enjoyed many good times with Tomm Ruud and his wife, ballerina Mary Wood, during the six-week bus-and-truck tours of Ballet West's early years. Although Christopher is slightly taller and broader than his father, Caldwell said that when the son is dancing, his physical resemblance to his father is uncanny. Then there's the bellowing laugh the men share.
Christopher was only 4 when "The Tempest" premiered, but has faint recollections of the ballet's fantastical plot and extravagant stagecraft. Memories of watching his father dance the role of Ferdinand were refreshed when he found a videotape of the television production among his father's things after Tomm Ruud's death in 1994.
"He had an effortless quality in the way he danced," Christopher said. "He was able to portray the young prince in love very well, but also to do comedy in different parts. What strikes me most was his ability to partner so well - to make his partnering look like part of the story."
Evelyn Cisneros agrees. A former principal ballerina at San Francisco Ballet, Cisneros was only 20 years old when she was thrust into the role of Miranda after another ballerina was injured. Tomm Ruud, by then a ballet veteran in his mid-30s, was her partner.
"He was a very educated and proficient partner," she said. "So gracious and willing to work through any difficulties we might have. I was the green one without any experience."
Cisneros, who came from San Francisco to stage "The Tempest" on Ballet West's dancers, said she remembers Christopher Ruud as an energetic toddler who spent long hours at San Francisco Ballet's studios with his parents.
Later, Cisneros danced with the father-and-son duo in San Francisco Ballet productions of "The Nutcracker." Among other roles, Cisneros performed as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Christopher as the Nephew, and Tomm as Herr Drosselmeyer.
Emotions ran high for Cisneros the first time she stepped into Christopher's embrace to demonstrate a dance step in one of Ferdinand and Miranda's pas de deux.
"I danced this as a young girl with [Christopher's] dad, and now it's his turn," Cisneros said. "Christopher is a fast learner and a wonderful partner. I know Tomm would be so proud of his son and how much he has accomplished."
Christopher said the joy of dancing his father's role is tempered by the realities of learning a challenging full-length ballet. Right now, he's concentrating on survival.
"It's hard dancing," he said. "You kind of have to get into the studio and just do it. At some point it's not about what was, but what is. After I get onstage and do the show, maybe I'll be able to take a step back and really bask in what the whole experience has meant for me."
The tangle of memories and connections that makes "The Tempest" a natural choice for Ballet West extends to the top of the Ballet West food chain. Adam Sklute, the company's artistic director, grew up in the San Francisco area and remembers seeing Cisneros and Tomm Ruud in the roles of Miranda and Ferdinand. Sklute liked closing a circle by casting Christopher in Tomm Ruud's role and bringing Cisneros in to teach it.
"It's been a wonderful experience to watch Evelyn work with Christopher, and to watch Christopher take on his father's role," Sklute said. "And, Christopher, to my eyes, certainly does his father's role justice."
The company is using the original costumes and sets created by Willa Kim and Tony Walton, respectively, for "The Tempest's" San Francisco premiere.
ğ "The Tempest" was set on Ballet West's dancers by Evelyn Cisneros, a former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer who danced opposite Tomm Ruud as Miranda in the ballet's premiere and its television production.
ğ Tomm Ruud's role of Ferdinand will be performed by Ballet West principal dancer Christopher Ruud, his son.