10 Things You Didn’t Know About Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham was a legendary figure in the world of dance. Known for his innovative approach to movement and choreography, he revolutionized the art form and left a lasting impact on generations of dancers and audiences alike. While many may be familiar with his groundbreaking work, there are still some lesser-known aspects of his life and career that may surprise you. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Merce Cunningham.

1. Merce Cunningham’s Background in Visual Arts

Before becoming a renowned choreographer, Merce Cunningham had a strong passion for visual arts. He studied at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where he initially intended to focus on painting and sculpture. It was during his time there that he discovered his love for dance and began taking classes. Despite his transition into the world of movement, Cunningham’s background in visual arts heavily influenced his choreography. His dances often featured abstract visual elements and unique spatial arrangements, showcasing his artistic sensibilities.

Learn about Cunningham’s early love for visual arts and how it influenced his choreography here.

2. Merce Cunningham’s Collaboration with John Cage

Merce Cunningham’s artistic vision was greatly shaped by his collaboration with composer John Cage, who also happened to be his life partner. The two artists worked closely together for over five decades, creating groundbreaking interdisciplinary works that pushed the boundaries of dance, music, and visual art. Cunningham and Cage believed in the concept of “chance operations,” where artistic choices were determined by random methods, allowing for unpredictable and spontaneous creations. This unique approach to collaboration led to the creation of some of their most influential and experimental pieces.

Discover more about the artistic collaboration between Cunningham and Cage here.

3. Merce Cunningham’s Concept of “Everywhere Is the Center”

A central theme in Merce Cunningham’s work was the idea that “everywhere is the center.” He believed that the stage was no longer the sole focal point of a performance, but rather a space where the audience’s attention could shift freely. Cunningham’s choreography often incorporated multiple simultaneous events happening in different areas of the stage, allowing audience members to choose what to focus on. This concept challenged traditional notions of spectatorship, encouraging viewers to actively engage with the performance and make their own interpretations.

Learn more about Cunningham’s concept of “everywhere is the center” here.

4. Merce Cunningham’s Use of Technology

Long before technology became a commonplace tool in the dance world, Merce Cunningham embraced its potential for artistic exploration. In the 1990s, he began collaborating with computer software engineers to create DanceForms, a software program that allowed him to choreograph using a computer. This innovative approach opened up new possibilities for Cunningham, as he could experiment with movement sequences and spatial arrangements virtually. His use of technology not only expanded his creative process but also paved the way for future generations of choreographers to explore the intersection of dance and technology.

Explore the intersection of dance and technology in Cunningham’s work here.

5. Merce Cunningham’s Legacy of Dance Company Continuation

Merce Cunningham was deeply committed to ensuring the continuity of his dance company and the preservation of his choreographic works. In a bold and unprecedented move, he established the Merce Cunningham Trust before his death in 2009. The trust was responsible for overseeing the licensing and staging of his dances, as well as creating the Legacy Plan, which detailed how his company would transition after his passing. This ensured that future generations would have access to his repertoire and that his artistic legacy would continue to thrive.

Learn more about the Merce Cunningham Trust and his legacy here.

6. Merce Cunningham’s Collaborations with Visual Artists

Throughout his career, Merce Cunningham collaborated with numerous visual artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. These collaborations resulted in performances that blurred the boundaries between dance and visual art, incorporating set designs, costumes, and visual elements that enhanced the overall experience. Cunningham’s ability to collaborate with artists from different disciplines showcased his openness to experimentation and his desire to push the limits of traditional dance.

Discover the intersection of dance and visual art in Cunningham’s collaborations here.

7. Merce Cunningham’s “RainForest” and Its Iconic Set Design

One of Merce Cunningham’s most iconic works, “RainForest,” featured a visually striking set designed by Andy Warhol. The set consisted of silver aluminum pillows that hung from the ceiling, creating an ethereal and otherworldly atmosphere. The combination of Cunningham’s choreography and Warhol’s set design made “RainForest” a truly groundbreaking and immersive experience. The piece premiered in 1968 and remains a testament to the innovative spirit of both artists.

Experience the immersive world of “RainForest” and its iconic set design here.

8. Merce Cunningham’s Exploration of Music and Dance

Merce Cunningham’s choreography was often deeply intertwined with the music accompanying his dances. He worked with various composers, including John Cage, David Tudor, and Takehisa Kosugi, to create soundscapes that complemented and enhanced his movement vocabulary. Cunningham believed that music and dance should exist independently of one another, not relying on a predetermined relationship. This approach allowed for a dynamic and unpredictable interaction between movement and music, resulting in performances that were both harmonious and unexpected.

Discover the unique relationship between music and dance in Cunningham’s works here.

9. Merce Cunningham’s Nonhierarchical Approach to Movement

Merce Cunningham rejected hierarchical structures in his approach to movement, treating all parts of the body as equal in importance. He explored the potential of each limb and joint, emphasizing the idea that every movement mattered. Cunningham’s nonhierarchical approach allowed for a sense of freedom and individual expression within his choreography. Dancers were encouraged to fully embody each movement, embracing the unique possibilities of their bodies.

Learn more about Cunningham’s nonhierarchical approach to movement here.

10. Merce Cunningham’s Lasting Impact on Contemporary Dance

The impact of Merce Cunningham’s work on contemporary dance cannot be overstated. His groundbreaking approach to choreography, collaborative spirit, and willingness to embrace technology continue to inspire choreographers and dancers around the world. Cunningham’s legacy lives on not only through the continued performances of his works but also through the Merce Cunningham Trust, which supports the exploration and preservation of his artistic vision.

Experience the lasting impact of Cunningham’s work on contemporary dance here.

Now that you’ve delved into the lesser-known aspects of Merce Cunningham’s life and career, you can appreciate the multifaceted and innovative nature of his contributions to the world of dance. His legacy continues to shape the boundaries of artistic expression and inspires generations to explore new possibilities.