Jean P. Day

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CRAFTSBURY - At dawn on Dec. 4, 2011, with her daughter, stepdaughter and close friends by her side, Jean Poppy Day died peacefully in her home on Eligo Lake in Craftsbury, Vt. She was born Jean Poppy Spice in Sydney, Australia, Jan. 14, 1919, to Irene Raymond and William Spice. Spice was a circus artist and vaudeville performer and would occasionally run away to the circus with his beloved daughter. Thus Poppy's talent and love for performing became evident at a young age.

Poppy's outlook on life was positive. Her artistry masked an intensely private person, a realist who deeply loved her family and took a "long view" in all matters of life. A disciplined artist, Poppy rose early each day to do her dance exercises, a practice that she sustained till her very last days. She performed well into her 80s. And until a few months before her death at 92, Poppy was choreographing, teaching and taking young dancers under her wing.

Poppy's career in dance under the name of Jean Raymond began in earnest when the formidable Austrian dancer and choreographer Gertrud Bodenwieser welcomed her into her company in Sydney, Australia. Madame, as Poppy called her, was a pioneer of the new "modern" dance. Bodenwieser was the foremost exponent of "Ausdrucks Tanz" or "expression dance." Poppy easily moved into Bodenwieser's new and dramatic form of story-telling, imaginative costumes, fully theatrical expression and innovative movements, and she quickly became beloved to Madame Bodenwieser and to their audiences across the globe. Poppy was possessed of a special radiant energy and adorned with enormous green eyes which seemed to her fellow dancers "to hold mysteries," but also suited her unexpected gift for comedy and mime. When Bodenwieser took the company on tour, the world opened to her dancers as they traveled to Australian cities, New Zealand, India and South America and South Africa. Poppy assisted Madame with public relations and advertising. She was also always ready to help and comfort anyone who needed it with a deep knowledge of herbs and healing energy that she had learned from her mother.

After nine years with Bodenwieser's company, Poppy went on to dance the leads in classical ballets in Shanghai. Later, she moved to New York City, where she trained with Martha Graham and other greats of the day.

Dedicating her life to the performing arts remained important, and all prospective husbands lost out - until she met the painter Lucien Day, her "renaissance man" of the SoHo art movement. Poppy and Lucien were married in 1959, when they had a glorious honeymoon "round the world." In 1961, they welcomed their daughter Margot. And from that time, Poppy succeeded in combining a stellar career with a rich and loving family life.

When the couple moved into the farmhouse in Craftsbury, Poppy resumed her interest in dance, teaching children at the Craftsbury Academy and reviving the then-empty Hardwick Town House for their recitals. Later she taught adult dance and fitness. Lucien Day, an accomplished pianist, played for all of his wife's classes and sometimes painted scenes of Poppy's dancing children.

Overjoyed by the return of her family to Craftsbury, Poppy instilled in her granddaughters the highest ideals of breath, line, stage presence and feeling for the dance, thus realizing the true aspirations of early modern dance. For many years the Lake Eligo farmhouse was a center of artistic nurture for everyone who had the good fortune to cross its threshold. Together, old and young thrived in a rich life of stories, painting, dance, bridge, music and magical formal teas in costume.

Poppy's legacy continues in her daughter Margot Day Mellett's music/poetry/performing, her granddaughter Julifer Day Mellett's prodigious talent for acting, and in her granddaughter and protégé Morgana Rose Mellett, who currently dances in New York City as a member of the Isadora Duncan Dance Company.

Poppy was predeceased by her husband, Lucien Day, stepson Chris, brother Alan and sister May. She is survived by her daughter, Margot, and husband Kurtis, two granddaughters, Julifer and Morgana, her younger sister, Betty, stepchildren Sarah and Felicity, and cousins in Australia.

She is dearly missed.

Everyone is welcome to the memorial service for Jean Poppy Day at 1 p.m. on June 23 in the Greensboro United Church, Greensboro. There will be a private reception by invitation only for family and close friends.
Published in Times Argus on June 9, 2012