Merce Cunningham


Merce Cunningham is one of the most revered choreographers of the 20th century, having founded the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which still thrives today. He is sometimes credited as being one of the pioneers of modern dance, and has also influenced other artistic genres from music to architecture. Cunningham continues to be well-respected in the world of dance.


Born in Washington in 1919, Merce Cunningham was the second of three boys. His father was a lawyer and his brothers decided to take a similar path; however, Cunningham fell in love with dance at the age of ten and took a very different road professionally. Martha Graham discovered Cunningham when he was dancing in Seattle during the late 1930s, and invited him to become part of her company. Cunningham accepted the offer and moved to New York in the fall of 1939, where he began an illustrious six-year career dancing under Graham's influence. He also enjoyed performing in a 1944 solo concert, where he began collaborating with famous composer John Cage. Cage went on to be a romantic partner, and their long term commitment to one another was a great platform to also continue to collaborate together creatively.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company

In 1953, Cunningham went to work as a teacher at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and then went on to form his own dance company. He choreographed hundreds of dances for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company during the remainder of his life, and also performed himself until he was well into his 80s. He danced until his death - having just created a new piece to commemorate his 90th birthday and views on life - which was performed in April of 2009 in Brooklyn. The dance company has always been known for having a very distinct style, and is bold in its moves and material. The company used to travel in a small bus, dancing their hearts out while living a very unglamorous lifestyle. This all changed in 1964, when the group took their first international tour. On that trip, they performed throughout Europe and Asia, and this led to a string of bookings all over the world. You can still see the dance company perform today, as they continue to tour and inspire future generations of dancers.

Unique Style

One of the reasons Merce Cunningham's career was so brilliant is that he was not intimidated by others. He eagerly collaborated with others, starting with John Cage and extending his reaches out to visual artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol. While dance can tell a story about anything, Cunningham's subject matter was always dance, no matter how it was presented. Cunningham was also wild about technology. His imagination was ageless, and he even created a top choreography computer program called DanceForms. He often made his creative work available via open source licenses so that it could be enjoyed by multitudes of artists the world over. Lastly, he participated in a weekly webcast to give audiences an inside peek at the dance company rehearsals and his unique and captivating teaching style. To learn more about the legacy Merce Cunningham left behind, you can visit the dance company's official website, which will provide you with all information from booking information to where to make a donation to his personal foundation. Pay a visit to the site if you are hoping to be inspired and touched by the beauty of dance - it will not disappoint. If you become exceptionally motivated to move after browsing, you can take an open studio class if you are in the area for around $15.

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Merce Cunningham