Farewell to Cunningham

September 13, 2009










The dance world lost an iconic—and revolutionary—figure this summer. Merce Cunningham, one of the giants of the modern dance world, passed away in July at age 90. Known for his precise, abstract, intensely thoughtful works, Cunningham helped define 20th-century modern dance.


Beginning as a stand-out soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company, Cunningham founded his own troupe in 1953. (He continued to dance in nearly every one of his company’s performances until 1989, when, at age 70, he was still a magnetic presence onstage.)


The consummate intellectual, Cunningham enjoyed collaborating with other great artistic minds. Numerous well-known visual artists and musicians worked with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, most notably the composer John Cage, who was also Cunningham’s life partner from the 1940s until his death in 1992. Cage and Cunningham fundamentally changed the way the dance world thought about the relationship between dance and music: They believed that the two should exist independently. Cage also inspired Cunningham to abandon storytelling completely, and to rely on chance procedures (dice rolling, for example) to dictate the course and flow of a dance.


In June, the Cunningham Dance Foundation outlined its legacy plan, which ensures that Cunningham’s works will live on. —Margaret Fuhrer



Photo by Richard Rutledge