Mercier Philip Merce Cunningham 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, 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, 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, and Jonah Bokaer. In 2009, the Cunningham Dance Foundation announced the Legacy Plan, a plan for the continuation of Cunningham’s work. Cunningham earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts, including the National Medal of Arts and he also received Japans Praemium Imperiale, a British Laurence Olivier Award, and was named Officier of the Légion dhonneur in France. Merce Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington in 1919, the second of three sons, both his brothers followed their father, Clifford D. Cunningham, into the legal profession. Cunningham first experienced dance while living in Centralia and he took tap class from a local teacher, Mrs. Maude Barrett, whose energy and spirit taught him to love dance. Her emphasis on precise timing and rhythm provided him a clear understanding of musicality that he implemented in his later dance pieces. He attended the Cornish School in Seattle, headed by Nellie Cornish, from 1937 to 1939 to study acting, Cunningham preferred the ambiguous nature of dance, which gave him an outlet for exploration of movement. During this time, Martha Graham saw Cunningham dance and invited him to join her company, 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, 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, in 1963 he joined with Cage to create the Walker Art Centers first performance, instigating what would be a 25-year collaborative relationship with the Walker. In his performances, he used the I Ching in order to determine the sequence of his dances and, often. 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, 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, Cunningham formed Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Black Mountain College in 1953. The original company included dancers Carolyn Brown, Viola Farber, Paul Taylor, and Remy Charlip, in 1964 the Cunningham Dance Foundation was established to support his work
Merce Cunningham in 1961
Still frame from Loops, a digital art collaboration with Cunningham and The OpenEnded Group that interprets Cunningham's motion-captured dance for the hands.