Partner John Cage

Queer Places:
Black Mountain College, Black Mountain, NC 28711, Stati Uniti
Cornish College of the Arts, 1000 Lenora St, Seattle, WA 98121, Stati Uniti
George Washington University, 2121 I St NW, Washington, DC 20052, Stati Uniti
107 Bank St, New York, NY 10014, Stati Uniti
Westbeth Artists Housing, 55 Bethune St, New York, NY 10014

Mercier Philip "Merce" Cunningham (April 16, 1919 – July 26, 2009) was an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of the American modern dance for more than 50 years. He is also notable for his frequent collaborations with artists of other disciplines, including musicians John Cage and David Tudor, and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Bruce Nauman. Works that he produced with these artists had a profound impact on avant-garde art beyond the world of dance.

As a choreographer, teacher and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company,[2] Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance. Many dancers who trained with Cunningham formed their own companies. They include Paul Taylor, Remy Charlip, Viola Farber, Charles Moulton, Karole Armitage, Robert Kovich, Foofwa d’Imobilité, Kimberly Bartosik, Flo Ankah, Jan Van Dyke, Jonah Bokaer, and Alice Reyes.

In 2009, the Cunningham Dance Foundation announced the Legacy Plan, a precedent-setting plan for the continuation of Cunningham’s work and the celebration and preservation of his artistic legacy.[3]

Cunningham earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts, including the National Medal of Arts and the MacArthur Fellowship. He also received Japan's Praemium Imperiale and a British Laurence Olivier Award, and was named Officier of the Légion d'honneur in France.

Cunningham’s life and artistic vision have been the subject of numerous books, films, and exhibitions, and his works have been presented by groups including the Paris Opéra Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, White Oak Dance Project, and London's Rambert Dance Company.

Merce Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington in 1919, the second of three sons. Both his brothers followed their father, Clifford D. Cunningham,[4] into the legal profession. Cunningham first experienced dance while living in Centralia. He took tap class from a local teacher, Mrs. Maude Barrett, whose energy and spirit taught him to love dance. Her emphasis on precise musical timing and rhythm provided him a clear understanding of musicality that he implemented in his later dance pieces.[5] He attended the Cornish School in Seattle, headed by Nellie Cornish, from 1937 to 1939 to study acting, but found drama's reliance on text and miming too limiting and concrete. Cunningham preferred the ambiguous nature of dance, which gave him an outlet for exploration of movement.[6] During this time, Martha Graham saw Cunningham dance and invited him to join her company.[7] In 1939, Cunningham moved to New York and danced as a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company for six years. He presented his first solo concert in New York in April 1944 with composer John Cage, who became his life partner and frequent collaborator until Cage's death in 1992.[8]


Westbeth Artists Housing, 55 Bethune St, New York, NY 10014

In the summer of 1953, as a teacher in residence at Black Mountain College, Cunningham formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Over the course of his career, Cunningham choreographed more than 200 dances and over 800 “Events,” or site-specific choreographic works. In 1963 he joined with Cage to create the Walker Art Center's first performance, instigating what would be a 25-year collaborative relationship with the Walker. In his performances, he often used the I Ching in order to determine the sequence of his dances and, often, dancers were not informed of the order until the night of the performance. In addition to his role as choreographer, Cunningham performed as a dancer in his company into the early 1990s.

In 1968 Cunningham and Francis Starr published a book, Changes: Notes on Choreography, containing various sketches of their choreography.

He continued to lead his company until his death, and presented a new work, Nearly Ninety, in April 2009, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, to mark his 90th birthday.[9]

Cunningham lived in New York City, and was Artistic Director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He died in his home at the age of 90.[10]

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