Monday, July 27, 2009

Merce Cunningham

[article reprinted in its entirety from BBC's website]

Merce Cunningham
April 16, 1919- July 26, 2009

US choreographer Merce Cunningham, widely recognised for revolutionising modern dance, has died aged 90.

A statement from the Cunningham Dance Foundation said the New York-based dancer "died peacefully in his home of natural causes" on Sunday.

He formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953 and choreographed nearly 200 works for it.

Although he used a wheelchair by the end of his career, Cunningham danced on stage right into his 80s.

The statement said he "revolutionised the visual and performing arts, not for the sake of iconoclasm, but for the beauty and wonder that lay in exploring new possibilities".

'Great artist'

Judith Fishman, chairman of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, said: "Merce was an artistic maverick and the gentlest of geniuses.

"We have lost a great man and a great artist, but we celebrate his extraordinary life, his art, and the dancers and the artists with whom he worked."

In April, Cunningham celebrated his 90th birthday with the premiere of new work Nearly Ninety - set to new music from Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones and Sonic Youth - at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in New York.

Last month, Cunningham set up The Living Legacy Plan, aimed at continuing his teachings in the future.

As part of the plan, Cunningham's work is to celebrated by his company with a two-year world tour culminating in a final performance in New York.

Toss of coin

Born just after World War I in a small town near Seattle, Cunningham loved to dance as a child.

From 1939 to 1945, he was a soloist in the company of Martha Graham, regarded at the time as one of the foremost pioneers of modern dance.

He presented his first New York solo concert in April 1944, with music from composer John Cage, who became his life partner and frequent collaborator until Cage's death in 1992.

In a radical move, the couple decided to end the traditional marriage of movement and music, saying that both arts should exist independently even when sharing the same space.

Cunningham also abandoned conventional storytelling through ballet to focus entirely on the poetry of dance.

He even tossed coins or threw dice to determine steps, saying the use of chance was "a present mode of freeing my imagination from its own cliches".

He was hugely admired by other dancers and worked with visual artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.

Cunningham's work has been presented by the New York City Ballet, Zurich Ballet and the Rambert Dance Company among others.

Among the accolades he received over his long career included the Kennedy Center Honors in 1985 and the National Medal of Arts in 1990.

[photograph from Merce Cunningham Dance Company website.]

1 comment:

Jon said...

Below is a link to the New York Times obituary, reprinted in its entirety on The Data Stream.

Merce Cunningham, Dance Visionary, Dies