Merce Cunningham

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Centralia, Washington
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Centralia, Washington

Merce Cunningham was an inventive and famous choreographer and an American contemporary dancer and teacher. While pursuing his professional dance and theater training, he was noticed by Martha Graham, a legendary dancer who offered him a position in her company. He began independent work in conjunction with composer John Cage while performing with the Graham’s Company, initially in solo recitals. He went on to start his own dance company and became a captivating choreographer. He was well-known for his dance technique, which featured inventive and expressive moves. His choreography represented his unique dance style, which was usually energetic and powerful. To create effects and reach his audience, his dancing style depended completely on pure body movement. To improve his presentations, he constantly cooperated with visual artists, architects, designers, and musicians in his company. John Cage, his music collaborator and life companion, had the greatest influence on his work. The duo used a lot of random techniques and came up with new abstract dance movement forms. Later in life, he began to experiment with new choreographic possibilities using special animated computer programs. He was a talented dancer, a powerful instructor, and the founder of a globally renowned avant-garde dance company, but most importantly, he was a creative and dynamic choreographer.

Childhood and Adolescence

Clifford D. Cunningham, a lawyer, and his wife, Mayme Cunningham, had him on April 16, 1919 in Centralia, Washington. He was their second son out of three. He enrolled at George Washington University after graduating from high school, but dropped out after a year. He enrolled in Seattle’s Cornish School of Fine Arts in 1937 and stayed for two years.

He attended Mills College and studied under Lester Horton, a well-known dancer and choreographer, while completing his formal dance and theatre training. Martha Graham, a well-known dancer, noticed him and urged him to join her company. He took the job and relocated to New York to work for her.

Career of Merce Cunningham

He began his career as a soloist with Martha Graham’s company in 1939. He was a member of the ensemble for several years, appearing as the primary figure in a number of works, including ‘El Penitente’ (1939) and ‘Appalachian Spring’ (1944). In addition, he began working as a choreographer, and some of his early pieces, such as ‘Root of an Unfocus’ (1944) and ‘Mysterious Adventure,’ were produced (1945).

He left the group in 1945 and established a solo career as a choreographer, working with artists such as John Cage. ‘The Seasons’ (1947) and ‘Inlets’ (1948) were among the pieces on which the two cooperated (1978). Gradually, he developed his own form of choreography known as “choreography by chance,” a technique in which random procedures such as “tossing a coin” are used to assign single moves in a sequential fashion.

He founded the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) in 1953 while working as a lecturer at Black Mountain College. Carolyn Brown, Viola Farber, Paul Taylor, and Remy Charlip were among the dancers, while John Cage and David Tudor were among the musicians.

The company was a success, and the choreography in its performances wowed the audience. In 1964, the company embarked on its first international tour, and he garnered widespread acclaim for his avant-garde pieces. In the early 1990s, he began choreographing with DanceForms, a computer animation application. He led his dancing company till he died, which was only a few months before his death. After his death, the firm embarked on a two-year homage tour before closing in 2012.

He choreographed some incredible dance works over his career, including ‘Suite for Five’ (1956–1958), ‘Crises’ (1960), ‘Sounddance’ (1975), ‘Fabrications’ (1987), ‘Ocean’ (1994), ‘Split Sides’ (2003), ‘Views on Stage’ (2004), and his most recent one, ‘Nearly Ninety’ (2009).

Achievements & Awards

He won fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in New York in 1954 and 1959.
At the Fourth International Festival of Dance in Paris in 1966, he received a ‘Gold Medal for Choreographic Invention.’ In 1972, he was awarded the ‘Belgrade International Theatre Festival Award,’ which is one of Serbia’s most important cultural events.

He received the Kennedy Center Honors and a MacArthur Fellowship in 1985. In 1993, he was honored into the Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs, New York.
He received the Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Lifetime Achievement in San Francisco in 1999. The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize was bestowed to him in 2000, and he was declared a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

He was made an Officier of the Légion d’honneur in France in 2004. He received the coveted “Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award” and the “Skowhegan Medal for Performance” in 2009. prominent universities such as ‘Wesleyan University,’ ‘University of Minnesota,’ ‘Cornish College of the Arts,’ and ‘Edith Cowan University’ awarded him honorary degrees.

Personal History and Legacy

He met composer John Cage while working at Martha Graham’s firm, and the two became life partners and frequent collaborators. He died quietly in his New York City home on July 26, 2009, at the age of 90.

Estimated Net Worth

Merce is one of the wealthiest choreographers and one of the most well-known. Merce Cunningham’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.