Merce Cunningham

Mercier Philip "Merce" Cunningham (April 16, 1919 – July 26, 2009) was an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of 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
Merce Cunningham 1961
Merce Cunningham in 1961
Mercier Philip Cunningham

April 16, 1919
DiedJuly 26, 2009 (aged 90)
OccupationDancer, choreographer
Years active1938–2009
Partner(s)John Cage[1]


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]

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]

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

Cunningham formed Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) at Black Mountain College in 1953. Guided by its leader's radical approach to space, time and technology, the Company has forged a distinctive style, reflecting Cunningham's technique and illuminating the near limitless possibility for human movement.

The original company included dancers Carolyn Brown, Viola Farber, Paul Taylor, and Remy Charlip, and musicians John Cage and David Tudor. In 1964 the Cunningham Dance Foundation was established to support his work.[11]

MCDC made its first international tour in 1964, visiting Europe and Asia.[11]

From 1971 until its dissolution in 2012, the company was based in the Westbeth Artists Community in West Village; for a time Cunningham himself lived a block away at 107 Bank Street, with John Cage.

On July 20, 1999 Merce Cunningham and Mikhail Baryshnikov performed together at the New York State Theater for Cunningham's 80th birthday.[12]

In its later years, the company had a two-year residency at Dia:Beacon, where MCDC performed Events, Cunningham's site-specific choreographic collages, in the galleries of Richard Serra, Dan Flavin, and Sol LeWitt among others. In 2007, MCDC premiered XOVER, Cunningham's final collaboration with Rauschenberg, at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. In 2009, MCDC premiered Cunningham's newest work, Nearly Ninety, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Company concluded its farewell tour on December 31, 2011[13] with a performance at the Park Avenue Armory.[14]

Artistic philosophy


Still frame from Loops, a digital art collaboration with Cunningham and The OpenEnded Group that interprets Cunningham's motion-captured dance for the hands.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company frequently collaborated with visual artists, architects, designers, and musicians.

Many of Cunningham's most famous innovations were developed in collaboration with composer John Cage, his life partner. Cunningham and Cage used stochastic (random) procedures to generate material, discarding many artistic traditions of narrative and form. Famously, they asserted that a dance and its music should not be intentionally coordinated with one another.[15]

After his death, John Cage was succeeded in the role of music director by David Tudor. After 1995, MCDC's music director was Takehisa Kosugi. MCDC commissioned more work from contemporary composers than any other dance company. Its repertory included works by musicians ranging from John Cage and Gordon Mumma to Gavin Bryars as well as popular bands like Radiohead, Sigur Rós and Sonic Youth.[16]

The Company also collaborated with an array of visual artists and designers. Robert Rauschenberg, whose famous "Combines" reflect the approach he used to create décor for a number of MCDC's early works, served as the Company's resident designer from 1954 through 1964. Jasper Johns followed as Artistic Advisor from 1967 until 1980, and Mark Lancaster from 1980 through 1984. The last Advisors to be appointed were William Anastasi and Dove Bradshaw in 1984. Other artists who have collaborated with MCDC include Daniel Arsham, Tacita Dean, Liz Phillips, Rei Kawakubo, Roy Lichtenstein, Bruce Nauman, Ernesto Neto, Frank Stella, Benedetta Tagliabue, and Andy Warhol.

Chance operations

John Cage and I became interested in the use of chance in the 50's. I think one of the very primary things that happened then was the publication of the "I Ching," the Chinese book of changes, from which you can cast your fortune: the hexagrams.

Cage took it to work in his way of making compositions then; and he used the idea of 64—the number of the hexagrams —to say that you had 64, for example, sounds; then you could cast, by chance, to find which sound first appeared, cast again, to say which sound came second, cast again, so that it's done by, in that sense, chance operations. Instead of finding out what you think should follow—say a particular sound—what did the I Ching suggest? Well, I took this also for dance.

I was working on a title called, "Untitled Solo," and I had made—using the chance operations—a series of movements written on scraps of paper for the legs and the arms, the head, all different. And it was done not to the music but with the music of Christian Wolff.

— Merce Cunningham, Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime of Dance, 2000

Cunningham valued the process of a work over the product. Because of his strong interest in the creation of the choreography he used chance procedures in his work. A chance procedure means that the order of the steps or sequence is unknown until the actual performance and is decided by chance. For instance in his work Suite by Chance he used the toss of a coin to determine how to put the choreographed sequences together. Indeterminacy was another part of Cunningham's work. Many of his pieces had sections or sequences that were rehearsed so that they could be put in any order and done at any time.[17] Although the use of chance operations was considered an abrogation of artistic responsibility,[18] Cunningham was thrilled by a process that arrives at works that could never have been created through traditional collaboration. This does not mean, however, that Cunningham considered every piece created in this fashion a masterpiece. Those dances that did not "work" were quickly dropped from repertory, while those that do were celebrated as serendipitous discoveries.

Cunningham used "non-representational" choreography which simply emphasizes movement, and does not necessarily represent any historical narrative, emotional situation, or idea. Such non-representational dance appears in many styles throughout history, but was not commonly used by ballet or Martha Graham, Cunningham's primary influences. In the use of chance procedures Cunningham abandoned the more traditional structured form of dance, he did not believe that a dance needs a beginning, middle or end.[17]


Examples in works

In Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three (1951) Cunningham used Indeterminacy for the first time in this piece; the changing element for each show was the sequence of the sections.

In Field Dances (1963) Cunningham experimented with giving the dancer more freedom. Each dancer was given a sequence of movements with which they could do as they pleased. This included exiting and entering at will, executing it in any order and as many times as desired.

In Story (1963) Cunningham experimented with the variables of costumes and sets. Before each performance dancers chose an outfit from a pile of second hand clothes picked out by the designer, Robert Rauschenberg. Rauschenberg was also responsible for creating a new set for every show with items he found in the theatre.

Suite by Chance (1953) was his first work made entirely through chance procedures. Charts were created listing elements such as space, time, and positions. A coin was then tossed to determine each of these elements.

Canfield (1969) was created by using playing cards. Each movement was assigned a playing card and chosen randomly. [20]

Use of technology

Cunningham's lifelong passion for exploration and innovation made him a leader in applying new technologies to the arts. He began investigating dance on film in the 1970s, and after 1991 choreographed using the computer program DanceForms. Cunningham explored motion capture technology with digital artists Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar to create Hand-drawn Spaces, a three-screen animation that was commissioned by and premiered at SIGGRAPH in 1998. This led to a live dance for the stage, BIPED, for which Kaiser and Eshkar provided the projected decor. In 2008, Cunningham released his Loops choreography for the hands as motion-capture data under a Creative Commons license; this was the basis for the open source collaboration of the same name with The OpenEnded Group. Cunningham was one of the first choreographers to begin experimenting with film. He created an original work for the video Westbeth (1974) in collaboration with filmmaker Charles Atlas[17]

In 2009, Cunningham's interest in new media led to the creation of the behind-the-scenes webcast Mondays with Merce.[21]


The use of stage space also changed in Cunningham's choreography. The "front and centre" spot traditionally coveted by soloists no longer exists in his works. Dance can take place on any part of the stage; it need not even be frontally oriented, but can be viewed from any angle (at performances in Cunningham's own studio, for instance, audiences are seated in an L-shaped configuration). The viewer's focus is never directed to a particular spot; he must often decide among many centres of activity.[22]

Merce Cunningham saw randomness and arbitrariness as positive qualities because they exist in real life.[17] Most of Cunningham's choreographic process works to break the boundaries of "putting on a show," the removal of center stage is an example of this—without a focal point for the audience, no one dancer or step holds the most value and can be seen as arbitrary... or not.

Legacy Plan

The Cunningham Dance Foundation announced the Legacy Plan (LLP) in June 2009. The Plan provided a roadmap for the future of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, as envisioned by Cunningham. The first of its kind in the dance world, the plan represented Cunningham's vision for continuing his work in the upcoming years, transitioning his Company once he was no longer able to lead it, and preserving his oeuvre.

The Legacy Plan included a comprehensive digital documentation and preservation program, which ensures that pieces from his repertory can be studied, performed and enjoyed by future generations with knowledge of how they originally came to life. By other provisions of the plan, the Merce Cunningham Trust, established by Cunningham to serve as the custodian for his works, controls his dances for licensing purposes; Cunningham associates prepared detailed records of the dances so they could be licensed and given authentic productions by other companies.[23] In addition, the plan outlined a final international tour for the Company, and, ultimately, the closure of the Cunningham Dance Foundation and Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the transfer of all assets to the Merce Cunningham Trust. From Merce's death at age 90 through the Board's last meeting in 2012, the Legacy Plan implemented his wish that the Company complete a worldwide legacy tour and then close. December 31, 2011 was the final performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

The final meeting of the Board of Directors for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was held March 15, 2012, in Cunningham's studio at the top of the Westbeth building in the West Village.[24]


There have been numerous exhibitions dedicated to Cunningham's work. In addition, his visual art is represented by Margarete Roeder Gallery.

The major exhibition Invention: Merce Cunningham & Collaborators at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts closed on October 13, 2007.

Merce Cunningham: Dancing on the Cutting Edge, an exhibition of recent design for MCDC, opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, in January 2007.

A trio of exhibitions devoted to John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, and Merce Cunningham, curated by Ron Bishop, were shown in the spring of 2002 at the Gallery of Fine Art, Edison College, Fort Myers, Florida.

A major exhibition about Cunningham and his collaborations, curated by Germano Celant, was first seen at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona in 1999, and subsequently at the Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal, 1999; the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna, 2000; and the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Castello di Rivoli, Turin, 2000.


Cunningham choreographed almost 200 works for his company.[25]

Suite for Five (1956–1958)
Music: John Cage, Music for Piano
Costumes: Robert Rauschenberg[26]
Lighting: Beverly Emmons

Crises (1960)
Music: Conlon Nancarrow (from Rhythm Studies for Player Piano)
Costumes, Lighting: Robert Rauschenberg

Rainforest (1968)
Music: David Tudor
Décor: Andy Warhol (Silver Clouds)
Costumes: Jasper Johns (uncredited)
Lighting: Richard Nelson

Second Hand (1970)
Music: John Cage, (Cheap Imitation)
Décor & Costumes: Jasper Johns
Lighting: Richard Nelson (1970) Christine Shallenberg (2008)

Sounddance (1975)
Music: David Tudor, Toneburst & Untitled (1975/1994)
Décor, Lighting, Costumes: Mark Lancaster

Fabrications (1987)
Music: Emanuel Dimas de Melo Pimenta, Short Waves & SBbr
Décor, Costumes: Dove Bradshaw
Lighting: Josh Johnson

Music: John King, blues 99
Décor, Lighting, Costumes: Mark Lancaster

Ocean (1994)
Music: David Tudor,Soundings: Ocean Diary and Andrew Culver, Ocean 1–95
Décor, Lighting, Costumes: Marsha Skinner

BIPED (1999)
Music: Gavin Bryars, Biped
Décor: Paul Kaiser, Shelley Eshkar
Costumes: Suzanne Gallo
Lighting: Aaron Copp

Split Sides (2003)
Music: Radiohead, Sigur Rós
Décor: Robert Heishman, Catherine Yass
Costumes: James Hall
Lighting: James F. Ingalls

Views on Stage (2004)
Music: John Cage, ASLSP and Music for Two
Décor: Ernesto Neto, Other Animal
Costumes: James Hall
Lighting: Josh Johnson

eyeSpace (2006)
Music: Mikel Rouse, International Cloud Atlas
Décor: Henry Samelson, Blues Arrive Not Anticipating What Transpires Even Between Themselves
Costumes: Henry Samelson
Lighting: Josh Johnson

eyeSpace (2007)
Music: David Behrman, Long Throw and/or Annea Lockwood, Jitterbug
Décor: Daniel Arsham, ODE/EON
Costumes: Daniel Arsham
Lighting: Josh Johnson

XOVER (2007)
Music: John Cage, Aria (1958) and Fontana Mix (1958)
Décor & Costumes: Robert Rauschenberg, Plank
Lighting: Josh Johnson

Nearly Ninety (2009)
Music: John Paul Jones, Takehisa Kosugi, Sonic Youth
Décor: Benedetta Tagliabue
Costumes: Romeo Gigli for io ipse idem
Lighting: Brian MacDevitt
Video Design: Franc Aleu

Honors and awards

Jacob's Pillow Dance Award
Skowhegan Medal for Performance

Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Nelson A. Rockefeller Award, Purchase College School of the Arts, State University of New York
Montgomery Fellow (Arts and Literature), Dartmouth College, Hanover NH

Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle WA

Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN
Praemium Imperiale, Tokyo

Officier of the Légion d'Honneur, France

Edward MacDowell Medal in interdisciplinary art, the MacDowell Colony, Peterborough NH

Kitty Carlisle Hart Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts (Arts & Business Council), New York NY
MATA (Music at the Anthology) Award, New York NY
Medal of the City of Dijon, France

Coat of Arms of the City of Mulhouse, France
La Grande Médaille de la Ville de Paris (echelon vermeil) from the Mayor of Paris
Career Transition for Dancers Award, New York NY
Herald Archangel Award, Glasgow, Scotland
Village Award, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, New York
Honorary degree from Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia

Nijinsky Special Prize, Monaco
The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, New York NY
Named a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress, Washington DC

Premio Internazionale "Gino Tani," Rome
Handel Medallion from the Mayor of New York City NY
Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Lifetime Achievement, San Francisco CA
Fellow of the Academy of Performing Arts, Hong Kong
The key to the City of Montpellier, France

Bagley Wright Fund Established Artists Award, Seattle WA

Barnard College Medal of Distinction, New York NY
Grand Prix of the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques, France

Nellie Cornish Arts Achievement Award from his alma mater, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle WA

Honorary degree from Wesleyan University, Middletown CT
Carina Ari Award (Grand Prix Video Danse with Elliot Caplan), Stockholm, Sweden
Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale, Italy

Inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, NY
Dance and Performance Award for Best Performance by a Visiting Artist, London, England
Medal of Honor from the Universidad Complutense of Madrid, Spain
(With John Cage, posthumously) the Wexner Prize of the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, Columbus OH
New York Dance and Performance Award ("Bessie"), New York NY
Tiffany Award from the International Society of Performing Arts Administrators, New York NY

National Medal of Arts, Washington DC
Porselli Prize, Italy
Digital Dance Premier Award, London, England
Award of Merit from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, New York NY

Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur, France

Dance/USA National Honor, New York NY

Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts, Southern Methodist University, Dallas TX

Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production (Pictures), London, England
Kennedy Center Honors, Washington DC
MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Chicago IL

Inducted as an Honorary Member into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York NY

The Mayor of New York's Award of Honor for Arts and Culture, New York NY

The Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award, Durham NC
Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France

Capezio Award, New York NY

New York State Award, Albany NY

BITEF Award, Belgrade, Yugoslavia
Honorary degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana IL

Gold Medal for Choreographic Invention at the Fourth International Festival of Dance, Paris

Medal of the Society for the Advancement of Dancing in Sweden, Stockholm

Dance Magazine Award, New York NY

1959 & 1954
Fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York NY


  1. ^ "Merce Cunningham obituary". Telegraph (UK). July 27, 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-26. Merce Cunningham who died on July 26 aged 90, was a 20th-century choreographer; his career in dance, which lasted more than 60 years, began when, as a Seattle-based dance student in 1939, he was invited by Martha Graham to join her company in New York
  2. ^ "Merce Cunningham Dance Company". Archived from the original on 2009-07-13. Retrieved 2010-01-26{{inconsistent citations}}
  3. ^ "Legacy Plan". Cunningham Dance Foundation. Archived from the original on 2009-07-13. Retrieved 2010-01-26{{inconsistent citations}}
  4. ^ "Cunningham, Merce (1919-2009), Choreographer". Retrieved 2014-09-26.
  5. ^ Merce Cunningham. Cunningham Dance Foundation, 1980. VAST: Academic Video Online. Alexander Street Press. Accessed 27 June 2015.
  6. ^ Interview with Merce Cunningham. MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, 1999. Dance in Video: Volume II. Alexander Street Press. Accessed 27 June 2015.
  7. ^ "Merce Cunningham". 2013. Retrieved 2013-03-13.
  8. ^ Kaufman, Susan (30 August 2012). "John Cage, with Merce Cunningham, revolutionized music, too". Washington Post. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  9. ^ Vaughan, David (July 27, 2009). "Merce Cunningham". The Guardian. London. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  10. ^ "Entertainment | Arts & Culture | Dance great Cunningham dies at 90". BBC News. 2009-07-28. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
  11. ^ a b "History". Merce Cunningham Trust. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  12. ^ Macauley, Alistair (23 March 2008). "aryshnikov's Artistry, Behind the Camera". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  13. ^ Village Voice, Deborah Jowitt, Wednesday, September 7, 2011.
  14. ^ Macaulay, Alastair (2011-12-30). "Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Park Avenue Armory". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-14.
  15. ^ "Merce Cunningham". Merce Cunningham Trust. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  16. ^ Vadukul, Alex (April 20, 2009). "Sonic Youth, John Paul Jones Give Merce Cunningham's Dance Show a Fierce Soundtrack". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  17. ^ a b c d Au, Susan. Ballet and Modern Dance.
  18. ^ Johnston, Jill (1996). Jasper Johns: Privileged Information. New York: Thames and Hudson. ISBN 0500017360. Quoted in Glueck, Grace (9 Feb 1997). "Hiding Behind the Flag". The New York Times Book Review. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
  19. ^ Au, Susan. Ballet and Modern Dance. Thames & Hudson. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-500-20352-1.
  20. ^ Au, Susan. Ballet and Modern Dance (2nd ed.). Thames & Hudson. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-500-20352-1.
  21. ^ Mondays with Merce
  22. ^ Au, Susan (2012). Ballet and Modern Dance. London, England: Thames & Hudson world of art. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-500-20411-5.
  23. ^ Daniel J. Wakin (June 9, 2009), Merce Cunningham Sets Plan for His Dance Legacy New York Times.
  24. ^ "Sutton's Law: A Final Goodbye". 2012-03-18. Retrieved 2012-11-18.
  25. ^ "Merce Cunningham Dance Company – Biography". 2009. Archived from the original on 2006-10-01. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
  26. ^ "Robert Rauschenberg", Wikipedia, 2019-01-08, retrieved 2019-01-14


  • Bredow, Moritz von. 2012. "Rebellische Pianistin. Das Leben der Grete Sultan zwischen Berlin und New York." (Biography, 368 pp, in German). Schott Music, Mainz, Germany. ISBN 978-3-7957-0800-9 (Biography on pianist Grete Sultan, John Cages's and Merce Cunningham's close friend. Many aspects regarding Cage and Cunningham!)
  • Bremser, M. (Ed) (1999), Fifty Contemporary Choreographers. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-10364-9
  • Cunningham, Merce (1968), Changes/Notes on Choreography. Something Else Press.
  • Cunningham, M. and Lesschaeve, J. (1992), The Dancer and the Dance. Marion Boyars Publishers. ISBN 0-7145-2931-1
  • Vaughan, David (1999), Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years. Aperture. ISBN 0-89381-863-1
  • Vaughan, D. and Cunningham, M. (2002), Other Animals. Aperture. ISBN 978-0-89381-946-0
  • Kostelanetz, R. (1998), Merce Cunningham: Dancing in Space and Time. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80877-3
  • Brown, Carolyn (2007), Chance and Circumstance Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-40191-1 Biography 53750

External links


2wice is an interdisciplinary magazine dedicated to contemporary dance, visual and performing arts. Patsy Tarr is the founder and editor in chief of 2wice and president of the 2wice Arts Foundation. The magazine is designed and co-edited by J. Abbott Miller of Pentagram. The magazine debuted in 1997.

Before 2wice, Tarr and Abbot had collaborated in similar roles to produce Dance Ink, a quarterly journal that appeared from 1989 through 1996.The publishers of 2wice have also produced other publications – Mah Jongg, False Start, Green World: Merce Cunningham, Everybody Dance Now, Geoffrey Beene and John Kelly – and an iPad app, Merce Cunningham Event. Dance 2wice, a book of essays collected from 2wice was published in 2004. An exhibition, Everybody Dance Now, was held at AIGA in New York City in 2009. The exhibition featured work resulting from the collaboration of Tarr and Miller.The publication was named "Magazine of the Year" by the Society of Publication Designers in 2006. The magazine is also in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

American Dance Festival

The American Dance Festival (ADF) under the direction of Executive Director Jodee Nimerichter hosts its main summer dance courses including Summer Dance Intensive, Pre-Professional Dance Intensive, and the Dance Professional Workshops. It also hosts a six-week summer festival of modern dance performances, currently held at Duke University and the Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham, North Carolina. Several site-specific performances have also taken place outdoors at Duke Gardens and the NC Art Museum in Raleigh, NC.

The precursor to today’s American Dance Festival began in 1934 as the Bennington Festival, a summer program at Bennington College where modern dance pioneers Hanya Holm, Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman came together to teach dance technique and perform new works. For one year, in 1939, Bennington moved the program to Mills College in Oakland, California, but it was back in Vermont by 1940. It ceased to exist after the summer of 1942.In 1948, a program based on the Bennington model was established at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut and called the New York University – Connecticut College School of Dance / American Dance Festival. In 1969, newly appointed director Charles Reinhart shortened the name to, simply, the American Dance Festival. After 30 years at the Connecticut College campus, the festival moved, in 1978, to the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Since its founding in 1934, The American Dance Festival has been the home to over six hundred and forty premieres, more than three hundred and forty commissions, and over fifty reconstructions by artists such as Martha Graham, José Limón, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, Pilobolus, Meredith

Monk, Martha Clarke, and many more.

Charles Reinhert was the director of the American Dance Festival from 1969-2011. In January 2012 Jodee Nimerichter was appointed director after having been a co-director with Charles from 2007-2011, and Associate Director from 2003-2007.Modern dance choreographers and companies who have given performances or taught there include José Limón, Pearl Lang, Bella Lewitzky, Sophie Maslow, Alwin Nikolais, Merce Cunningham, Ruth Currier, Erick Hawkins, Paul Taylor, Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp, Betty Jones, Paul Draper, William Bales, Eiko & Koma, Seán Curran, Wang Ramirez, Maguy Marin, Pilobolus and Anne Teresa De KeersmaekerRIOULT DANCE NY, Lines Ballet Company, Shen Wei Dance Arts, LMNO3, Heidi Latsky Dance, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

In 1978, Madonna, who was at the time a dance major at the University of Michigan, was a summer dance student at the American Dance Festival.Numerous dance works have premiered at the American Dance Festival, many of them commissioned by ADF. The largest theater in the Carolinas, the Durham Performing Arts Center, was built partly as a showcase for the festival. In 2016, the American Dance Festival with support from the Doris Duke/SHS Foundations Award for New Dances, commissioned Pascal Rioult's Cassandra's Curse with music by Richard Danielpour.

ADF has given scholarships and awards out to accomplished dance figures. The Scholarship is entitled the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award and is $50,000 given to one distinguished choreographer per year. These recipients include Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Ohad Naharin, Pina Bausch, Twyla Tharp, Jose Limon, and others.

ADF also awards distinguished dance teachers. This award is entitled the Balasaraswati/Joy Anne Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching. Recipients of this award include Gerri Houlihan, Gus Solomons Jr., Donna Faye Burchield, Jacylnn Villamil, Irene Dowd and others.

The American Dance Festival also offers internships during their summer session for both Arts Administration and Production. Interns are able to take one dance class per day and then the remainder of their day is filled with working in the ADF offices for those interested in Arts Administration, or learning the tools and skills of stage hand work and spending 40+ in the theater by being on the crew for every professional company throughout the festival. Both internships include a full tuition scholarship to the Six Week school. Applicants must apply for these internships, and selection is very competitive.

The American Dance Festival also offers classes year round in the Samuel H. Scripps Studio. The Studios offer classes for all ages and levels throughout the calendar year. During the summer session, the studio is used throughout the Six Week School in addition to spaces provided from Duke University.

In addition to the summer sessions and year-round programs based in Durham, NC, ADF also hosts a Winter Intensive in both New York City and Pasadena, CA. Both of these programs are for dancers ages 18+.

Andrew Culver (composer)

Andrew Culver (born August 30, 1953) is a composer whose works have included chamber and orchestral music, electronic and computer music, sound sculpture and music sculpture, film, lighting, text pieces, and installations. He performs concerts with sound sources of his own invention that are based on the tensegrity structural principle as elaborated by Buckminster Fuller, a lifelong influence.

Culver worked for 11 years with John Cage, helping to realize his compositional and poetic works and direct his operas and installations.

Culver's largest work is Ocean 1—133 (1994, 2006), the orchestral component of Ocean, which was conceived by John Cage and Merce Cunningham, with choreography by Merce Cunningham, electronic music by David Tudor, and design by Marsha Skinner.

Culver develops databases and software to realize his work and to make chance operations accessible to others. ic is his computer simulation of the I Ching coin-tossing oracle.

Culver also writes about music, art, and anarchy. He is the founder of Anarchic Harmony Foundation and the inventor of the Anarchic Philharmonic.

Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do

Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do is an EP by Sigur Rós, released in 2004 by Geffen Records. The EP consists of the songs the group composed for Merce Cunningham's dance piece Split Sides, which also involved Radiohead.The title refers to the only spoken words throughout the whole piece. Merce Cunningham was recorded saying "ba ba, ti ki, ba ba, di do" and this can be heard in the last track, "Di Do".

Radiohead wrote music to the second half of Split Sides but are not planning on releasing their contribution.

Black Mountain College

Black Mountain College was an experimental college founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, and several others. Based in Black Mountain, North Carolina, the school was ideologically organized around John Dewey's principles of education, which emphasized holistic learning and the study of art as central to a liberal arts education. Many of the school's faculty and students were or would go on to become highly influential in the arts, including Josef and Anni Albers, Charles Olson, Ruth Asawa, Walter Gropius, Ray Johnson, Robert Motherwell, Dorothea Rockburne, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Buckminster Fuller, Franz Kline, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Allen Ginsberg. Although it was quite notable during its lifetime, the school closed in 1957 after 24 years due to funding issues. The history and legacy of Black Mountain College are preserved and extended by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center located in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Bénédicte Pesle

Bénédicte Pesle (15 May 1927 – 17 January 2018) was a French arts patron. She was known for having introduced American avant-garde artists of stage, music, dance, and the visual arts to France, and was instrumental in the European careers Merce Cunningham, Robert Wilson, Philip Glass, and Trisha Brown, amongst others.In the announcement of her Ordre des Arts et des Lettres award, she was listed as an "agent artistique" (artistic agent), but in the course of her career, carried out largely behind the scenes, she was also sometimes described as a "producer" or "presenter". A 1985 article about her in the Christian Science Monitor, described her less formally as "a combination of friend, agent, impresario, producer, fund-raiser, and creative adviser." She herself preferred the term "secrétaire d’artistes" (secretary to artists) to describe her work.

Carolyn Brown (choreographer)

Carolyn Brown (born September 26, 1927) is an American dancer, choreographer, and writer. She is best known for her work as a founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Charles Atlas (artist)

Charles Atlas is a video artist and film director who also does lighting and set design.

He is a pioneer in developing media-dance, also called dance for camera. Media dance is work that is created directly for the camera. While Atlas’ primary artistic medium is video, he also began to experiment with live electronic performance in 2003. Atlas worked collaboratively with Merce Cunningham from 1975 to 1981. Before his time as the Cunningham company’s filmmaker-in-residence (1978 – 1983), when he made 10 dance films, Atlas was an assistant stage manager for the company, and was already filming Cunningham in little experimental movement studies during breaks from rehearsal. Following his work with Cunningham, he worked independently in film while collaborating with other professionals in the field.

Dance Umbrella

Dance Umbrella is an annual festival of modern and contemporary dance in London every October, founded by Val Bourne.First held in 1978, companies such as London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Siobhan Davies Dance Company, Shen Wei Dance Arts perform at venues across London including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Place, Battersea Arts Centre and the Barbican Theatre.

David Tudor

David Eugene Tudor (January 20, 1926 – August 13, 1996) was an American pianist and composer of experimental music.

David Vaughan (dance archivist)

David Vaughan (May 17, 1924 – October 27, 2017) was a dance archivist, historian and critic. He was the archivist of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1976 until the company was disbanded in 2012.

In his long career, Vaughan was a dancer, choreographer, actor and singer whose work had been seen in London, Paris, and in New York, both on- and off-Broadway, as well as in regional theatres across the United States, in cabarets, on television and on film. Vaughan's ballet choreography was used in Stanley Kubrick's 1955 film Killer's Kiss, danced by Kubrick's wife at the time, ballerina Ruth Sobotka. He has worked with both modern dance and ballet companies.

Every Soul is a Circus

Every Soul Is a Circus is a comedic ballet choreographed by Martha Graham. The dance premiered on December 27, 1939, at the St. James Theatre in New York City. The original score was composed by Paul Nordoff. Philip Stapp created the set. Edythe Gilfond designed the costumes. The production marked the first appearance of Merce Cunningham with the Martha Graham Dance Company.The troupe still performs the work on occasion. It was last reprised for the 85th anniversary season in 2012.

Foundation for Contemporary Arts

The Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA), is a nonprofit based foundation in New York City that offers financial support and recognition to contemporary performing and visual artists through awards for artistic innovation and potential. It was established in 1963 as the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts by artists Jasper Johns, John Cage, and others.

FCA was founded on the principle of "Artists for Artists" support as visual artists united to sponsor performance artists through grants funded by the sale of donated artworks. The first benefit exhibition was at the Allan Stone Gallery in 1963. Among contributors to the Foundation's first benefit exhibition were Marcel Duchamp, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman, Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg, and Andy Warhol.Since its establishment, FCA has awarded more than 2,500 non-restrictive grants to individual artists and art organizations through its seven grant programs: Grants to Artists, Emergency Grants, the biennial John Cage Award, the biennial Merce Cunningham Award, the annual Robert Rauschenberg Award, the annual Ellsworth Kelly Award, and the annual Dorothea Tanning Award.

FCA is located at 820 Greenwich Street in the West Village neighborhood of New York City.

Harvey Lichtenstein

Harvey Lichtenstein (April 9, 1929 – February 11, 2017) was an American arts administrator. He is best known for his 32-year tenure (1967–99) as president and executive producer of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, or BAM, as it became known under his leadership. He led the institution to a renaissance, championing contemporary performance, establishing the Next Wave Festival, and providing a vital venue for dance, theater, music, and collaborations that bridged disciplines. The long list of artists who came to perform on BAM's stages under Lichtenstein's purview reads like a Who's Who of 20th-century performance, and includes Laurie Anderson, Pina Bausch, Peter Brook, Merce Cunningham, Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Jerzy Grotowski, Mark Morris, Steve Reich, Twyla Tharp, and Robert Wilson. When Lichtenstein retired, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation made the decision to honor his considerable accomplishments by foregoing its own naming rights and dedicating the BAM Harvey Theater in his honor.

Jackie Matisse

Jackie Matisse, also known as Jaqueline Matisse Monnier, (born 1931) is a French artist. She was born in Fontainebleau Forest, the eldest of the three children of Pierre Matisse and Alexina Duchamp. For a time she was married to the French banker, Bernard Monnier.Matisse has been described as "ever the kiteflying [creating] pioneer," "renowned for her kites." She also works in stereoscopy, supercomputing and virtual reality.One example of her work is her collaboration with David Tudor and Molly Davies, Sea Tails. An early supporter of Merce Cunningham, she served on the board of directors of the Cunningham Dance Foundation from 2004 to 2012.

London Contemporary Dance Theatre

The London Contemporary Dance Theatre (LCDT) was a contemporary dance company, based at The Place, founded by Robin Howard with Robert Cohan as its Artistic Director.

Founded in 1967, and strongly influenced by the ideas of American modern and postmodern dance artists Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, the company was probably the first contemporary dance company in the UK, and played a pioneering role in developing the art form in that country.

Choreographers such as Siobhan Davies, Christopher Bannerman and Micha Bergese, worked alongside composers like Barrington Pheloung to create new works which were performed at the Sadler's Wells Theatre and toured the UK and internationally.

Well-known works created by the company include:

Cell (1969)

Troy Game (1974)

Forest (1976)

Nympheas (1976)

Stabat Mater (1976)

Sphinx (1977)

Rainbow Bandit (1979)

Run Like Thunder (1983)LCDT won the 1975 Evening Standard Award for Outstanding Achievement In Ballet and Olivier Awards on three occasions: in 1978, 1989–1990 and 1994.The company closed in 1994 when The Place refocused its work, creating the Richard Alston Dance Company, and developing a bigger presenting programme for the Robin Howard Dance Theatre.

London Contemporary Dance School was originally conceived to train dancers for the company, and awarded its first degree in practical dance in 1982. The School is still in operation as part of The Place.

Marilyn Wood

Marilyn Wood is an American choreographer, intermedia artist, and dancer.

Marilyn Wood is an internationally renowned creator of contemporary, city-scale intermedia performances, otherwise termed “Celebrations,” that have taken place worldwide for the past 25 years. As a dancer/choreographer who “choreographs cities,” Marilyn Wood's Celebration Events bring communities together to celebrate their vitality and diversity in a unique experience of spectacle and participation in urban environments. Her work has been recognized as re-inventing the spirit and drama of the ancient festival in contemporary life.

The Seasons (Cage)

The Seasons is a ballet with music by John Cage and choreography by Merce Cunningham, first performed in 1947. It was Cage's first piece for orchestra and also the first to use what Cage later called the gamut technique, albeit in an early form.

Works for prepared piano by John Cage

American avant-garde composer John Cage (1912–1992) started composing pieces for solo prepared piano around 1938–40. The majority of early works for this instrument were created to accompany dances by Cage's various collaborators, most frequently Merce Cunningham. In response to frequent criticisms of prepared piano, Cage cited numerous predecessors (such as Henry Cowell). In the liner notes for the very first recording of his most highly acclaimed work for prepared piano, Sonatas and Interludes, Cage wrote: "Composing for the prepared piano is not a criticism of the instrument. I'm only being practical." This article presents a complete list of Cage's works for prepared piano, with comments on each composition. It should be noted that all of Cage's indeterminate works for unspecified forces (the Variations series, Fontana Mix, Cartridge Music, etc.) can also be performed on or with Prepared Piano.

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