Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham (* April 16, 1919 in Centralia, Washington; † July 26, 2009 in New York City ) was an American dancer and choreographer. Earlier in his career he was considered by many to be a very talented dancer, but wasting his talent with daring dance experiments. Today its position as one of the leading figures of modern dance theater is undisputed.


Cunningham was born in Centralia, a small town in Washington State. His father was a lawyer. His interest in dance evolved by chance and was not specifically sponsored prevented by his parents. As a 11- year-old he learned tap dancing at Maud Barrett, who had opened a dance school in his home town. With her and her daughter Marjorie Cunningham tingelte by California, where she partly also acted as interim program in silent films.

After finishing school he went to Seattle and attended the Cornish College of the Arts acting classes, but then changed her dance. Director of the dance class was Bonnie Bird, a former dancer Martha Graham. A year later, John Cage was hired as a pianist and accompanist for the dance department. With Cage Cunningham met his later work and life partner. Cage led the dance students in unorthodox ideas about the relationship between dance and music. 1939, before completing his studies, Cunningham moved to New York and took numerous soloist roles in the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1940 he studied in New York at the School of American Ballet classical dance. In 1942, he began designing his own choreography with music by John Cage. Over time, the dance and the music of the two was always independent from each other, and in the early 1950s was finally the only bond between dance and music, the simultaneity of their performance. The stage sets for Cunningham often designed by the painter Robert Rauschenberg.

Cunningham followed the choreography of the methods of Cage, which used this for his compositions. Any movement could follow each other and every movement was allowed. In the arrangement Cunningham were as Cage random processes. Both wished to imitate nature in its mode of action. The use of chance Cunningham freed from the constraints of habit and intuition and movement opened possibilities that he would not have found otherwise.

In 1953 he founded the Merce Cunningham Company, for John Cage and David Tudor wrote the music. Ten years later, the Merce Cunningham Company went on a six-month world tour; many guest performances had to be extended due to the great success. In America itself, where the troops initially had few appearances, led the worldwide positive response to increased interest. The Cunningham Company has since been regularly touring the United States.

In his appearances to Cunningham was not limited to traditional venues, but led his choreography in museums, stadiums and public places on, for example, the St. Mark's Square in Venice or Grand Central Station in New York. In 1972, Cunningham on the Shiraz Art Festival in front of the ruins of Persepolis. Even with film and camera Cunningham experimented and created specifically for the film- technical possibilities coordinated choreography.

Cunningham's work can be found today in the repertoire of ballet and dance theater Companien in the world. In 2005 he received the prestigious Praemium Imperiale, the "Nobel Prize of art ". In 1985 he was MacArthur Fellow.


Rune (World Premiere August 14th, 1959 ) takes 25 minutes and is a dance for six dancers ( four women and two men). The music is by Christian Wolff and can be played with two pianos or with orchestra. Rune consists of five parts, each about 5 minutes. Cunningham here was planning a series of choreographic blocks that he could string together any and vary. In each five-minute block both silence / stop and action should take place. The blocks should unconnected stand side by side. However, since the required sample effort could not be applied, the piece in its original conception was never realized. It is the only work that Cunningham had meticulously recorded on about 40 pages, described during a flight from America to Europe exactly. A reconstruction of the work according to these records at the beginning of the 1980s, yet designed to be extremely tedious and difficult.

Winter branch (premiered March 21, 1964 ) is a dance about falling. Here Cunningham has tried a lot in advance with Steve Paxton. In addition, the idea of ​​the dancers did not add, in a kind of Entrée dancing on their place on the stage to perform, but that they should just go to their place, dance there and cede again. The stage (Bob Rauschenberg ) should be designed in black, according to Cunningham's idea.

Rainforest (premiered March 9, 1968 ) is described by Cunningham as a character dance. Right at the beginning is a slow Duo, at the then added yet another dancer. Although only three dancers act, this piece of six dancers seem to be danced, only three of which are visible at a time. The inspiration for the stage got Cunningham, an exhibition was placed in the Andy Warhol silver balloons ( Silver Clouds ) in pillow shape. Cunningham used with Warhol's consent these pillows that were filled with helium and were partially fixed with a string on the ground, partially floating at different heights on the stage. An idea of Warhol, to let the dancers appear naked, was not realized by Cunningham. Cunningham nevertheless wanted to show something like " torn skin ", which was then implemented by Jasper Johns with slotted jerseys.

Walkaround Time (premiered March 10, 1968 ) lasts 49 minutes and was designed from the outset for eight dancers. It consists of two parts and a Entre'acte, which originally from Relâche ( never performed ) originates and was inserted here. The partially changing music by David Behrman. The choreography was also made ​​into a film by Charles Atlas.

Was established in 1973 with a decor of Jasper Johns, the piece Un jour ou deux, which was resumed in Paris in 2011. In 1991, the piece Beach Birds, which was listed again in Paris in 2010.

Cunningham had decreed that the Dance Company after his demise undertake a two-year farewell tour and should be resolved afterwards. This world tour ended on 31 December 2011 in New York. The assets of the Cunningham Dance Foundation and the copyrights of the works were transferred to the Merce Cunningham Trust, will award the performance rights to the works Cunnighams to leading dance companies.


  • 2011: Merce Cunningham. Drawings and video recordings. Museum Wiesbaden, Wiesbaden