When I was 11 years old the town I was born in, Newark, New Jersey, went up in flames as newspapers proclaimed "the worst urban riots in American history." That year I was performing in nearby New York City in the opulent opera houses of Lincoln Center.
The collision of these worlds formed an inquiry that still drives my work today:
How do I live an undivided life and foster undivided communities?
Two images from my childhood: the charred facade of a burning storefront and the stained glass facade of the Metropolitan Opera.
I grew up in New York's professional opera halls so the lines between work, art, and everyday life have always been thin for me. Before I entered kindergarten opera directors cast me when they needed "a kid" because I fit the qualifications of an ideal child performer: I was small, compliant, and convenient. (My sister was a singer with City Opera.)
My earliest memories include sitting on Beverly Sills' lap during productions of The Ballad of Baby Doe, feeling the powerful vibrations of her voice surge through my body.
I remember being perched on Gian Carlo Menotti's shoulders while he directed his chamber opera, The Saint of Bleeker Street. Maestro Menotti explained to me how each staging choice would impact the audience's emotional response. It was a brilliant tutorial on non-verbal communication by a man the New York Times calls "the most popular and prolific composer of his time".
In junior high I watched from the wings as Margot Fonteyn coached Rudolph Nureyev in a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet.
Most of the adults in my childhood opera world lived their lives in the passionate service of making skillful art. On the other hand, I have always been passionate about making art in the service of living a skillful life.
One adult who taught me about living with intention was my ballet instructor, Margaret Craske, one of the most prominent ballet teachers of the 20th century. I consider my years training with her an internship in living with intention. Because she communicated an insistence on integrity and clear focus through the physical medium of ballet, her values were literally patterned into my biological structure as a girl. See Margaret Craske: An Internship in Living an Intentional Life
Traveling in Asia on my own as a teenager. Madame Craske taught me well about living with intention. By my teens I already knew what I wanted in life: I wanted everyday to be as creative and rigorous as the professional opera world, but less apart. So I set out exploring and found my way to Asia by attending Nanyang University in Singapore. I traveled on my own through Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Taiwan. But it was on the island of Bali where I found a model of an integrated, creative society. In Bali, where every rice farmer and shopkeeper is also a painter, dancer, musician, and keeper of the village children, I saw how it was possible to blend ordinary everyday living with community, artmaking, business, and connectedness.
I returned the U.S. in my early twenties determined to invent a life that was as creative and integrated as life in Bali. I completed my college degree at Washington University in St. Louis, and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, a city that values community, cooperation and its vibrant arts scene.
Early partners in contemporary arts
I spent the next ten years as a performer and choreographer working collaboratively with colleagues, many of whom went on to become influential artistic voices in photography, theater, dance, music, video, literature and visual arts. See Performance Projects and Community Artworks. I formed partnerships with funders and presenters. My work was produced in Europe and New York. I began receiving major awards, positive national reviews, and my work was recognized as Best of the Arts in the regional press.
Between my own projects, I performed for more than 25 world-class directors and choreographers. See Performing Experience. Most of these artists co-created new works "on-the-spot" with performers as collaborators. Unlike artists whose creative decision-making happens alone and in private (painters, composers or writers), my contemporary art world was a hot-bed of collective creative activity. These experiences were an in-depth training in creative process, collaborative leadership and group dynamics.
Meanwhile, I kept my dream alive of an integrated life by simultaneously cultivating partnerships in diverse arenas from business to community development to health care.
Early partners in business innovation, strategy and training
- Synectics, Inc. - In the late 1980's I became a facilitator with Synectics, Inc., an international consulting firm that has been a pioneer in business innovation since the 1960's. Through Synectics I introduced physical movement practices into new product development sessions for companies like General Mills and American Express. Although we consistently got the best results from the teams I worked with, at the time no one could explain why. After the "decade of the brain" federal research initiation (1990-2000), we now understand from a neuroscience perspective why a kinesthetic approach to ideation is so effective. See Wendy's training in brain-based teaching.
- Colleagues brought me as a Naive Resource into strategic planning processes for companies in industries I knew nothing about. My role as a Naive Resource is to ask naive questions that might lead to breakthrough ideas. For example, my question, "Why do you call it life insurance if it's really death insurance?" opened the way to imagining a new line of life planning products.
- As I became more familiar with the organizational world I partnered with colleagues to design and deliver programs around organizational change, creativity and innovation, facilitation, wellness, stress management and leadership development. By integrating my background in the arts and collaboration into my consulting and training work, I was using everything I know was the power of art and movement to engage people in new ways of learning.
Early partners in community development, health care and education
- Another arena where I have applied my understanding of group creative process is as a Cultural Organizer. As a Cultural Organizer I use the arts to strategically help communities come together around issues and opportunities that matter to them. See Dalai Lama's Visit; Culture and Conflict; People, Places, Connections; and Creative Community Leadership Institute.
- Many of my early partnerships have lasted over a dozen years. For example in the mid-80's I became the first artist-in-residence at Pathways, a health crisis resource center for people facing life threatening illness. My work with Pathways has been remarkable laboratory for understanding cycles in the life of a leading-edge organization.
- Throughout this journey I have taught in community centers, schools and universities. Some of my first students have evolved alongside me and remain close colleagues.
The deepest influence on my own thinking about how creative change happens in human systems has come from the diversity of groups I have had the remarkable honor to work with, to learn from, and to serve. Those listed above are only a few, and I carry all their lessons with me.
Performance Projects and Community Artworks (representative listing)
2008 Common Ground Meditation Center On Leadership, Contemporary Art, Parenting and Other Forms of Creative Engagement (performance/public talk)
2008 Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership Engaging the Invisible Forces of Systemic Change (plenary session) Nova Scotia, Canada
2007 Banff Centre Leadership Arts Ensemble (improvisational concert), Alberta, Canada
2007 Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership In Praise of Hopelessness (solo) Nova Scotia, Canada
2007 Women's Leadership Community Show Me Your Myth (solo) Minnesota
2006 Minnesota Public Radio (series of original monologues recorded before a live audience)
2005-06 Cornerstone Theater/Guthrie Theater (Community Liaison) for The Falls
2005 Varsity Theater opening season, premiere solo and group works, Tsunami, Show me your wallet
2003 National Exchange on Art and Civic Dialogue, Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, Michigan Cepro Live opening
performance for Americans for the Arts/Ford Foundation conference on art and social change
2000-03 Animating Democracy Initiative Lab project People Place Connections/ Urban Web - 3-year series of community-engaged performances and arts-based civic dialogues about land use planning around Midtown Greenway. Collaborators: (organizations) Intermedia Arts, Midtown Greenway Coalition and Minneapolis YWCA;
(design team) Tim Springer, Sharon Ramirez, Deb Rogers, Akhmiri Sekhr-Ra, June Wilson;
(artist team) TaCoumba Aiken, Douglas Ewart, Marilyn Lindstrom and Victor Ypez; James Byrne
2001 For the visit of the Dalai Lama, Spirit of Tibet, community performances and public art events in collaboration with Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota & FORECAST Public Artworks
2001 Greeenway Parade of Arts Hallelujah Moves On community performance w/Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
2000 Minnesota Alliance for Arts and Education DaDaFu performance duet as arts education advocacy tool
2000 Patrick's Cabaret Just Passing Thru solo with video of 96-year old neighbor/scientist Elizabeth Lawrence
1999 Artspace Minutes solo performance for Shubert Theater Advisory Committee
1999 Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center Life/Death/Afterdeath Artistic Coordinator for conference
1997 University of Minnesota Art Department What About Beauty performance project
1995 Walker Art Center, Love Bash Correspondance duet with social worker husband
1994 Tom Rose Studio ...A Good Thing collaboration with sculptor Tom Rose with Pathways community
1993 Walker Art Center A Concert of Everyday Living with composer Monica Maye
1992 Pathways Health Crisis Resource Center FullHouse performance event
1990 Nicollet Island Open Heart Open House with composer Monica Maye
1987 Harmonia Mundi Wind Ensemble commissioned concert
1986 Minnesota Dance Theater Voyage to Islands of Langerhans quintet
1985 Dance Theater Workshop, NYC (also Paris and St. Paul)
Shadow to Frame: A Search for the Nature of (Im) Mortality with Dorit Cypis and James Byrne
1984 Nicollet Island Saab Story trio with Patrick Scully, Wendy Oliver & 2 cars
1984 Minnesota Coalition for Terminal Care Framing the Shadow performance for hospice conference
1983 Patrick Scully Studio Tub solo with photographer JoAnn Verburg
1981 Walker Art Center Milkweed improvisational concert with Phillip Brunelle/Janis Hardy
1981 MICA Presents Shoes - in 6 acts solo/collaboration with photographer Paul Shambroom
1979 Walker Art Center Saungg solo and Timepiece duet
Video & television (representative listing)
2006 - Patrick's Cabaret Live In Praise of Hopelessness (solo with text)
1983-2003 Collaboration with James Byrne 1983-2003
Representative showings: Museum of Modern Art, NYC; Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon; Boston Museum; 2nd Annual European Symposium on Dance and Film, France; Teatro Nuovo, Italy; Festival Videografia, Barcelona; Dance Umbrella Festival, London; Colorado Dance Festival; Dance Theater Workshop, NYC; Rhode Island School of Design; Universities in Florida, Colorado, Ohio and Minnesota
Works include: Cepro; Blue Room; bodies of water re-membered; this body,this place unnamed; River Sticks; Four Tiny Dancers in a Box of Light; Leaning/Falling/Jumping and Face Dancing.
Distributed by: Electronic Arts Intermix, NYC
1983 K.T.C.A. - TV productions of Red Dress and Saungg produced by Sue O'Halloran
Performing Experience (representative list)
2008 Zeitgeist world premiere Making of Americans by Anthony Gatto & Jay Scheib at Walker Art Center
2001 Liz Lerman Dance Exchange Hallelujah/Minneapolis at Walker Art Center
1999 Marylee Hardenbergh Mother's Day at College of St. Catherine
1990 Jonathan Stone Human Accordian at Walker Art Center
1983-1986 Body Arts Network (European tour)
1982-83 New Dance Ensemble original company member performances in U.S.
1982 Patrick Scully Shinders to Shinders film
1981 Bill T. Jones Company at Nicollet Island
1979-1981 Linda Shapiro and Dancers many performance venues
1979 David Gordon Pick-Up Company at Walker Art Center
1978 Meredith Monk Quarry at Walker Art Center
1975-76 Bharata Natyam in Singapore, Bali, Java, Hong Kong and Taiwan
English-language Essays, Reviews & Articles about Wendy Morris' work
The New York Times
New York Times Radio
Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory
Minneapolis Star and Tribune
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine