JUDITH REN-LAY was born in Denver, Colorado and attended the University of Colorado where she majored in theater. Her early dance training was with Ernestine Stodelle (an original member of the Doris Humphrey Dance Company) and at the University of Maryland where she performed with the Maryland Dance Theater and with Meredith Monk at the Smithsonian Institution.
While in Connecticut during the early 70's, she travelled throughout the state as a Visiting Artist for the Commission on the Arts offering workshops in schools and colleges. She directed the dance program for the first High School for the Performing Arts in the area (ECA,) taught special classes in movement for Yale University, began the dance program for Quinnipiac College, received grants to choreograph fourteen works for local companies including the Connecticut Ballet and ran her own studio teaching dance to students of all ages.
During her time in Connecticut and subsequently in NYC she studied intensively with Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber, Peter Saul and many others.
In 1975 she moved to New York City to dance in the company of Gus Solomons jr and became a major soloist in the company touring nationally for 5 years. She was Mr. Solomons teaching assistant during the company's extended residency at the California Institute of the Arts, and taught workshops and technique classes at his New York Studio.
In 1980 she left the Solomons Company to pursue innovations in emerging forms bridging dance, theater, and music. Her first works -"HOT CLOUD MOUNTAIN" 1979 and "WHERE THE FISH-NET HOSE SUNK DEEP-CUT INTO THE PURPLE NAVEL OF MY CABBAGE SANDWICH" 1980 - were produced in New York City at the Lotus Gallery and The Warren Street Performance Loft in collaboration with a group of dancers and musicians.
In 1981 she became a member of ReCherChez, the studio theater of Mabou Mines, which produced "TWELVE PEARLS STRUNG ON DREAM SONGS" featuring her first audio work in layers of contrasting simultaneous texts and extended vocal techniques.
She subsequently began a consistent outpouring of performance works in theaters, clubs, lofts, creating the performance specifically for the space such as "CATEGORIES OF UNREST" 1983, on the roof of Riverside Church, and "STAKE" 1983, for PS122. During this time she produced over 20 works in as many months.
In the fall of 1983 she travelled to Europe performing "SONGS OFF THE FRINGE" in theaters, clubs, galleries, and, after three months, returned to New York with "MINOR VENOM" 1984, at PS122, a continuation of her collaboration with percussionist Gerry Hemingway.
In January of 1985 Franklin Furnace commissioned "THE GRANDFATHER TAPES", a two-hour solo based on live recordings of an interview with her grandfather, the doctor who invented Tampax in the 1930's and who was a pioneer in birth-control research. After touring California and Colorado, this work was honored with DTW's New York Dance and Performance Award, the Bessie, for outstanding artistic achievement in creating "a courageously personal world of family and legacy."
She has twice received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1986 & 1988), lives and works in New York City. In 1986 she returned to Denver and produced a series of outdoor performances "MOON RITUALS" taking place on the four phases of the moon in May.
Back in New York City, she created "SOUP" 1988 with musician/composer Mio Morales (Roulette, Knitting Factory, Performing Garage NYC), "NEGATIVE MYTHOLOGIES" 1987 featuring Georg Osterman in the role of the three-headed woman (DIA Foundation, PS122 NYC) and "PSYCHE'S CRIB" 1988 (LaMama NYC).
In 1989 Ms. Ren-Lay underwent open heart surgery resulting in complications requiring five months of hospitalization. "TO THE BEAT OF IMPOSSIBLE CAUSES" presented in October, 1990 at the Warren Street Performance Loft NYC, marked her return to performing.
1991 brought an extended residency at the University of Colorado, retrospectives in Denver (The Edge Gallery) and New York (LaMama), and the premier of "UNDERCURRENT EVENTS" at PS122 which toured to Los Angeles in February, 1992.
"FOOT/ TONGUE/ WEB", the first of a series of "elastic" installation/performances was created for the Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church NYC in November 1992 and in 1993 the series continued with "THE LAST TABOO" (PS 122 NYC) "HALF A LIFE" (Ohio Theater NYC) "XX CHROMOSOMES" (Ward-Nasse Gallery NYC) "BITE THE WHITE DRAGON" (Movement Research at Judson Church NYC) "HORSE DRAWN DREAM CATCHER" (St. Mark's Poetry Project NYC.)
As a writer, she gave her first poetry reading at the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe NYC in 1993, and continues to read regularly. Her writings have been published in The New Haven Register, The Downtown Review, Washington Market Review, Movement Research Journal, Juice, Pagan Magazine and Poor.
"INVISIBLE EVIDENCE OF OUR ANGELIC RESIDUE", a two-hour concert of music and spoken word featuring 10 guest musicians and a flying life-size paper skeleton, was performed at LaMama NYC in May, 1994. During this time she served as Performance Curator for Performance Space 122 (NY).
In April and May of 1995 Ren-Lay created a three-part piece, "SEPARATION OF PARTS", first returning to her roots in dance, performing a 40 minute solo in silence at St. Mark's Church for the Danspace Project NYC ("SPACE PIE") and following that with the first show of her drawings "OFFER THE STROKE, STROKE THE OFFER" which occupied the SpaceCase Gallery at PS122 NYC for the month, completing the trilogy with "SCALE SLICING" an a cappella solo opera performed at the Knitting Factory NYC.
That fall The Knitting Factory commissioned her to write and perform a vocal score in their "Loud Music/Silent Film" series. She chose a 1921 Swedish silent classic"WITCHCRAFT THROUGH THE AGES," which toured to San Francisco and Chicago and was invited to perform at the first New Haven Festival of Arts & Ideas in June 1996, and continued to be performed through 2001 with a special post 9/11 Halloween performance at the Old Chapel at Snug Harbor, Staten Island with Ken Butler and Satoshi Takeishi.
For the month of January 1996 she installed a second show of her visual art (a study in photo collage entitled “CORNERS OF A ROOM” ) at the SpaceCase Gallery at PS122.
With the Knitting Factory as her creative home, she continued to produce an outpouring of musical performance pieces: “IN CONSISTENCY” (1996-97) a series of improvisations with master musicians Alan Jaffe, Mark Helias, Joe Gallant, Rufus Cappadocia, and Brett Heinz; “HALLOWEENY” (1996) performed within an elastic spiderweb on the spiral staircase at PS 1’s ClockTower Gallery in lower Manhattan; and “BOOMERANG” (1998) a solo of vocal overlays performed with an electronic cart and two microphones.
In 1999 she was invited to Switzerland to direct “SCRATCHES”, a multi-media work of choreography, text, video, and original music which was performed to critical acclaim in Biel, Berne and Zurich, and then returned to New York to create a new musical work “GRAY STUDY” for PARADIGM, the Gus Solomons jr dance trio of Solomons, Dudley Williams and Carmen de Lavallade, performed live at the Joyce Theater in January 2002 with added vocal composition based on writings from 9/11/01.
Her first CD of vocal music was released on the Knitting Factory label in May 2002 to critical acclaim.
In 2004 she premiered “THE LANGUAGE PUPPET’ at the Colony Café in Woodstock NY, then travelled with it to the SomArts Gallery in San Francisco.
In 2006 she created a new solo “FALLING EAGLE” a response to the political situation in the United States, performing it in NYC at Symphony Space, Dixon Place and LaMama.
From 2002-2011 Ren-Lay was rehearsal director to a number of choreographers, notably Gus Solomons jr and Molissa Fenley under the name “PERFORMANCE DOCTOR”.
In 2009 she returned to Europe to perform with Susanne Mueller and Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson at a Festival in Neuchatel, Suisse and traveled to France to record with Bob Drake at his studio in Borde Basse.
In 2010 she once again presented her visual art, this time with a digital photography show "DANCES WITH LIGHT" at SB Studio, NYC. and later that year she returned to her hometown of Denver to perform "SELECTIONS FROM THE STEALTH SONGBOOK" at the Mercury Cafe.
In 2011 she was hit by a cab and subsequently spent 6 months in hospital, 3 years homebound and underwent 7 reconstructive surgeries to learn to walk again.
In 2018 she was able to read her writing of the experience at the 6th Street Garden, NYC and in 2019 returned to full performance mode with "CRONE OF THORNS" at Pangea, NYC.
She has taught at The Educational Center for the Arts (New Haven, CT), Yale University, The University of Colorado, New York University, California Institute of the Arts, Quinnipiac College, Wesleyan University, New Arts Program (Kutztown, PA), Goddard College, Hobart/William Smith Colleges, New York State University College of Arts and Sciences, State University College at Fredonia NY, Alfred University, Buffalo Academy for the Visual & Performing Arts, Eastern Connecticut State College, Bridgeport University, Southern Connecticut State College, Lorretto Heights College, Albertus Magnus College, The Aspen Institute, among others, and privately at studios in New York and New Haven, CT.