Merce Cunningham

(16 April 1919 – 26 July 2009)

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Merce Cunningham was born on April 16, 1919 in Centralia Washington and died July 26, 2009. He was a modern dancer and choreographer who developed new forms of abstract dance movement, making him one of most innovative and influential choreographers of the 20th century. Cunningham began to study dance at age of 12, he initially received his first formal dance and theater training at the Cornish School in Seattle. During this time, Martha Graham saw Cunningham dance and invited him to join her company. He began his professional modern dance career at 20 with a six-year tenure as a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1944 he presented his first solo concert and in 1953 formed the legendary Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) as a forum to explore his groundbreaking ideas.MCDC was formed at Black Mountain College, and included dancers Carolyn Brown, Viola Farber, Paul Taylor, and Remy Charlip, and musicians John Cage and David Tudor. 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. MCDC’s first international tour, in 1964—which included performances in Western and Eastern Europe, India, Thailand, and Japan—marked a turning point for the Company and initiated a constant stream of national and international engagements. MCDC cultivated a body of new music, commissioning more work from contemporary composers than any other dance company. MCDC was featured extensively in film and video choreographed by Cunningham. Frequent collaborators Charles Atlas, Nom June Paik, and Elliot Caplan created historic dance films such as Life Time of DanceOceanSplit SidesBeach Birds, Cage/Cunningham, and Points In Space.
The Cunningham Dance Foundation, together with Cunningham, developed the precedent-setting Legacy Plan to address how an arts organization established to fulfill a single artist’s vision could transform itself for a post-founder existence and ensure the perpetuation of an enduring creative legacy. Announced in June 2009, the three-year Plan included MCDC’s farewell Legacy Tour, career transition for dancers, musicians, and staff who invested their time and creative efforts toward the realization of Cunningham’s vision, the creation of digital “Dance Capsules” to bring Cunningham’s work to life for future generations, and the closure of MCDC and the Foundation and transition to the Merce Cunningham Trust to serve as custodian for Cunningham’s artistic legacy in perpetuity.