Merce Cunningham

Choreographer
United States

Portrait of Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham (1919 – 2009) was a leader of the American avant-garde throughout his seventy-year career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. With an artistic career distinguished by constant experimentation and collaboration with groundbreaking artists from every discipline, Cunningham expanded the frontiers of dance and contemporary visual and performing arts. Cunningham’s lifelong passion for innovation also made him a pioneer in applying new technologies to the arts.

Cunningham began his professional dance career at 20 with a six-year tenure as a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1944 he presented his first solo show and in 1953 formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as a forum to explore his groundbreaking ideas. Together with John Cage, his partner in life and work, Cunningham proposed a number of radical innovations, chief among them that dance and music may occur in the same time and space, but should be created independently of one another. They also made extensive use of chance procedures, abandoning musical forms, narrative, and other conventional elements of dance composition. For Cunningham the subject of his dances was always dance itself.

Photo : © Annie Leibovitz