Red Deer’s Jenna lee Hay is set to make an off-Broadway debut, of sorts, in a modern dance by one of America’s most respected choreographers.
The Merce Cunningham Trust in New York City is remounting Crises, a dance the late Cunningham first created in 1960. And Hay is the only Canadian dancer out of five who were chosen to perform the piece.
“I feel just incredible. This validates all the hard work I’ve been doing for years,” said Hay, who’s in her third year of studying dance at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
Her connection with the trust, formed to preserve the legacy of Cunningham, one of the U.S.’s foremost avant-garde dancer and choreographers, began indirectly in April.
A university instructor decided to stage another of Cunningham’s pieces, Native Green, as a class project. Hay danced a lead role in the double-cast production — the same part her teacher had performed in a 1986 staging of the dance in New York. (Simon Fraser even brought in the original costumes kept by the trust.)
Hay’s dedicated performance led the 25-year-old Central Albertan to receive a scholarship to take classes put on by the Merce Cunningham Trust in May and June.
While attending these classes in New York, Hay said dancers were encouraged to hang around and learn by watching others — so she stayed for rehearsals of a Cunningham work called Roaratorio. During one of these sessions, her interest was noticed by one of the directors.
After returning to Vancouver, Hay received an email from Jennifer Goggans, studio co-ordinator at the Merce Cunningham Trust, asking if she would return to New York at the end of October to dance in a remount production of Crises.
Hay, who was told that trust directors “love my energy and positive spirit, and that I am willing to work really hard,” is excited at this opportunity and considers it an honour — especially since the performance will be videotaped for the Merce Cunningham Trust website.
The two-week workshop, culminating with a public performance of Crises, will take place from Oct. 20 to Nov. 7 at the Merce Cunningham Studio, just off Times Square.
The choreographer, who died at age 90 in 2009, started out dancing with Martha Graham’s company. He often collaborated with visual artists and musicians on his complex works. For instance, dancers usually didn’t hear the music they would be performing to until they walked out in front of an audience, said Hay.
“He changed the way people look at dance. … We all appreciate and love the way he pioneered modern dance.”
Crises involves four women and one man, and focuses on physical contact between the dancers — both through holding each other and through elastic bands worn around a wrist, an arm, a waist or a leg. Although there’s no narrative, it loosely concerns decisive movements in the relationship between a man and four women.
Hay will be paid for her participation in this remount, but she believes the rewards are many. “I’m the only Canadian being brought out from way out here on the West Coast, so it’s really neat that they are supporting me in this way.”
Simon Fraser University also just awarded Hay with a $1,000 scholarship, which she considers “pretty wonderful.”
Hay believes these successes wouldn’t have been possible without the solid foundation laid during her many years studying with Judy Dorland at the former DanceCentral school (now Strive Dance Academy) in Red Deer.
“There was the discipline … and I also learned to have fun and really enjoy it.”
Hay also made solid friendships with other dancers, such as with the three Jantzie sisters of Lacombe, who are now living in New York and working as Rockettes. She plans to stay with one of the sisters during her two weeks in the city.