Skip to main content
Legacy Oral History Online Collection

Tomm Ruud

Tomm Rudd resize.jpg

Tomm Ruud (1943-1994) was born, the second of three brothers, in Pasadena, California on May 23, 1943.  Following his parent's divorce, he spent his early life in rural Thane, Wyoming with a large and close-knit Mormon population. After his mother remarried, the family moved to Afton, Wyoming.

At age eighteen, Tom observed a performance of the Utah Civic Ballet’s production of Coppelia.  Inspired, he set his goal to perform with the company.  Tomm attended the University of Wyoming for one year and briefly studied modern dance.  When he transferred to the University Of Utah’s Ballet Department, he came under the mentorship of Willam Christensen.  While in Christensen’s choreography class, Tomm developed his signature work Mobile, to music from Khatchaturian’s Gayane ballet.  He also studied men’s technique and partnering and eventually performed the role of Franz in Utah Civic Ballet’s Coppelia in 1966.  Tomm graduated with a BFA in ballet, immediately joining the Utah Civic Ballet and participated in tours throughout the American West and Europe.  He completed his MFA in 1970.

In 1972, Tomm married Mary Bird, a member of Ballet West.  He continued to choreograph several works, including a commission from American Ballet Theater, with support from the National Endowment for the Art’s Choreographer Fellowship program.  In 1975, Tomm and Mary moved to San Francisco, and Tomm became a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet in May, 1975.  Their son Christopher Scott Ruud was born in 1977.

With San Francisco Ballet, Tomm continued to choreograph as a resident choreographer.  In 1981, a short film titled Balances was created based on his work Mobile. Tomm also performed roles choreographed by Michael Smuin and Lew Christensen, notably as Romeo in Smuin’s Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, and others.  Tomm also contributed to the production of San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker as a coach and performed the role of Drosselmeyer with his son, Christopher.  Tomm eventually joined the artistic staff at San Francisco Ballet. 

In 1981, Tomm separated from his wife and began living openly as a gay man. In 1986, Tomm was diagnosed with HIV infection and Mary Ruud Wood continued as his primary care-giver and best friend.  Tomm Ruud died of AIDs-related causes on February 28, 1994.

Audio Clip and Transcript

©Museum of Performance + Design