In spring 2002, then-Penn State School of Visual Arts graduate student Jenny Rogers brought together synchronized swimming, cowboy chaps, dancing and a heavy dose of Americana in a site-specific installation at the former Starlite Drive-In, located on the Benner Pike just outside State College.
Titled “Trick Saddle,” the installation featured Rogers’ film of an “underwater cowboy ballet,” showcasing members of Penn State’s synchronized swimming team decked out in traditional cowboy garb. While the film rolled on the Starlite’s massive yet dilapidated screen, 20 young women danced live on the hoods of cars, performing the choreography of Clove Galilee, Rogers’ artistic partner and spouse.
The event, a final project for Rogers’ art installation course, challenged gender roles with female performers whose graceful movements underwater and on land were a slap in the face of a cowboy’s masculinity. And it was just a sign of things to come.
Rogers (’03 M.F.A. Visual Arts) and Galilee, who met as undergraduates at Brown University, have thrived in the New York performing arts scene with their collaborative company that goes by the same name as Rogers’ long-ago Penn State project. Trick Saddle, which works within the realm of theatre, dance, film and visual art, most recently co-produced the play “The Imaginary Invalid,” which will be performed at La MaMa in New York City through February 7.
The play, which was both previewed and reviewed by “The New York Times” as a Critic’s Pick, is based on the 1673 Molière comedy of the same name. Co-produced by long-established experimental theater company Mabou Mines—which was founded by Galilee’s parents, Lee Breuer and Ruth Maleczech—the play takes the audience backstage as the cast prepares the set and tries to rehearse scenes amidst personal discussion about money, medicine, politics, loss and the nature of inspiration. It was originally conceived by Maleczech, who died of breast cancer in September 2013. Rogers and Galilee’s version features a lot of dance, reflecting Galilee’s training and experience in the discipline.
Rogers serves primarily as director and designer for Trick Saddle and has received many honors for her work. She was nominated for a 2010 GLAAD Media Award for Direction for Outstanding New York Theater and 2009 Henry Hewes Award for Outstanding Set Design for her work on “Wickets,” a play that addressed the femininity and (lack of) feminism in the world of 1970s stewardesses. The set encompassed the entire audience, packing them into a scarily realistic fuselage.
In 2003, Rogers and Galilee developed the Penn State version of “Trick Saddle” into a full-length theatrical piece that was shown at P.S. 122 and included in a number of traveling exhibitions, to rave reviews.
Rogers has received grants from the Greenwall Foundation and the New York State Council for the Arts, and served as theatrical artist-in-residence at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Bard College and HERE Center for the Arts, among others. Her theater pieces have been shown nationally and internationally, including La MaMa, Raw Space Studios and Dixon Place in New York City, and the Patras Festival in Greece and the Rio Cena Contemporanea Festival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Her most recent video project, “Perfect Surf,” was granted an Independent Artist Award in Film and Media–New Technology Production by the New York State Council for the Arts. Rogers’ video work has appeared in museums and galleries around the world.
Rogers said she feels fortunate to have studied in SoVA’s M.F.A. program with its exceptional faculty. “I can’t imagine a more amazing graduate school experience. I waited 10 years after undergrad to find the right program—a highly sophisticated and supportive artistic community of artists, intellectuals and educators—and Penn State SoVA was all that and more for me,” she explained. “The level of attention, instruction and mentorship that I received in SoVA is top notch and frankly unparalleled in a graduate, or undergraduate, program for that matter. And I credit my time in graduate school at Penn State and my artistic mentors there for much of my artistic success now.”