Merce Cunningham

About Merce Cunningham

Who is it?: Dancer and Choreographer
Birth Day: April 16, 1919
Birth Place: Centralia, Washington, United States
Occupation: Dancer, choreographer
Years active: 1938–2009
Partner(s): John Cage

Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham was born on April 16, 1919 in Centralia, Washington, United States, is Dancer and Choreographer. Merce Cunningham was an American modern dancer and teacher, most remembered as an innovative and influential choreographer. While receiving his formal dance and theatre training, he was spotted by the great dancer, Martha Graham, who offered him a chance to work in her company. While working with the Graham’s Company, he also began independent work in collaboration with composer John Cage, at first in solo concerts. Later, he established his own dance company and went on to become an enchanting choreographer. Through his creative and expressive movements, he garnered wide acclaim for his dance style. His personal dance style, reflected in his choreography, was usually athletic in forcefulness. His dance style relied solely upon pure body movement to produce effects and reach his audience. He frequently collaborated with visual artists, architects, designers, and musicians in his company to enhance his performances. His music collaborator and life partner, John Cage, had the greatest influence on his practice. The duo made an extensive use of chance procedures and developed new forms of abstract dance movement. Later in life, he turned towards special animated computer programs to explore new choreographic possibilities. He was a brilliant dancer, an influential teacher, and an organizer of an internationally acclaimed avant-garde dance company but above all, an imaginative and charismatic choreographer.
Merce Cunningham is a member of Dancers

Does Merce Cunningham Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, Merce Cunningham has been died on July 26, 2009(2009-07-26) (aged 90)\nNew York, New York.

🎂 Merce Cunningham - Age, Bio, Faces and Birthday

When Merce Cunningham die, Merce Cunningham was 90 years old.

Popular As Merce Cunningham
Occupation Dancers
Age 90 years old
Zodiac Sign Taurus
Born April 16, 1919 (Centralia, Washington, United States)
Birthday April 16
Town/City Centralia, Washington, United States
Nationality United States

🌙 Zodiac

Merce Cunningham’s zodiac sign is Taurus. According to astrologers, Taurus is practical and well-grounded, the sign harvests the fruits of labor. They feel the need to always be surrounded by love and beauty, turned to the material world, hedonism, and physical pleasures. People born with their Sun in Taurus are sensual and tactile, considering touch and taste the most important of all senses. Stable and conservative, this is one of the most reliable signs of the zodiac, ready to endure and stick to their choices until they reach the point of personal satisfaction.

🌙 Chinese Zodiac Signs

Merce Cunningham was born in the Year of the Goat. Those born under the Chinese Zodiac sign of the Goat enjoy being alone in their thoughts. They’re creative, thinkers, wanderers, unorganized, high-strung and insecure, and can be anxiety-ridden. They need lots of love, support and reassurance. Appearance is important too. Compatible with Pig or Rabbit.

Some Merce Cunningham images

Famous Quotes:

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



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. 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. 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. 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, who became his life partner and frequent collaborator until Cage's death in 1992.


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


In Suite by Chance (1953) it 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.


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


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


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


In Story (1963) Cunningham experimented with the variable of costumes and sets. Before each performance Dancers were to choose 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 every show with items he could find in the theatre.


1964 Medal of the Society for the Advancement of Dancing in Sweden, Stockholm


1966 Gold Medal for Choreographic Invention at the Fourth International Festival of Dance, Paris


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


Canfield (1969) This piece was created by using playing cards. Each movement was assigned a playing card and chosen randomly.


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


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.


1972 BITEF Award, Belgrade, Yugoslavia Honorary degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana IL


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


1982 The Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award, Durham NC Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France


1983 The Mayor of New York’s Award of Honor for Arts and Culture, New York NY


1984 Inducted as an Honorary Member into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York NY


1985 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


1987 Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts, Southern Methodist University, Dallas TX


1989 Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur, France


1990 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


1993 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


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


1995 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


1996 Nellie Cornish Arts Achievement Award from his alma mater, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle WA


1997 Barnard College Medal of Distinction, New York NY Grand Prix of the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques, France


1998 Bagley Wright Fund Established Artists Award, Seattle WA


1999 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


2000 Nijinsky Special Prize, Monaco The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, New York NY Named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, Washington DC


2001 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


2002 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


2003 Edward MacDowell Medal in interdisciplinary art, the MacDowell Colony, Peterborough NH


2004 Officier of the Légion d'Honneur, France


2005 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN Praemium Imperiale, Tokyo


2006 Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Cornish College of the Arts, Seattle WA


2007 Nelson A. Rockefeller Award, Purchase College School of the Arts, State University of New York Montgomery Fellow (Arts and Literature), Dartmouth College, Hanover NH


2008 Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY


2009 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award Skowhegan Medal for Performance


The Legacy Plan includes a comprehensive documentation and preservation program, which will ensure 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, takes control of 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. In addition, to ensure the authenticity of the presentation of his oeuvre once Cunningham was no longer able to lead his Company, 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.


There have been numerous exhibitions dedicated to Cunningham’s work. In addition, he is a visual Artist represented by Margarete Roeder Gallery.

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