Merce Cunningham Trust Announces Global Centennial Celebration Of The Choreographer's Legacy
Merce Cunningham is widely considered one of the most important choreographers of all time. Throughout his 70-year career, he continued to innovate, helping to drive the evolution of the American avant-garde and expanding the frontiers of contemporary visual and performance arts. His collaborations with artists from every creative discipline yielded an unparalleled body of American dance, music, and visual art. Today, which would have been his 99th birthday, the Merce Cunningham Trust announces a global celebration that will give a broad audience the opportunity to experience the range of his work and artistic process. Beginning in the fall of 2018, and continuing throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Centennial will unite people, cities, and arts and educational institutions in a large-scale representation of this vibrant legacy. The Centennial will include performances; film screenings; discussions; curricula; festive dinner gatherings; and more, in cities across the U.S. and around the world.
Prior to Cunningham's death in 2009, he and close advisors developed a groundbreaking plan to ensure the preservation of his legacy. Comprehensive in its scope, the Legacy Plan called for a final two-year world tour for his dance company, culminating in a final homecoming in New York City before disbanding; transition arrangements for the company's dancers and staff; and the disposition of assets such as choreographic rights, costumes, props, and other materials to the Trust and to respected institutions that would make them available to the public.
The Merce Cunningham Trust strives to maintain Cunningham's legacy through active engagement with new generations of dancers and audiences. Paramount in its efforts is the goal of ensuring that the proper environment and resources exist for Cunningham's work to flourish with these groups. Recognizing the unique nature of dance, including its ephemerality, the Trust focuses on how Cunningham's choreographic output can be transmitted from body to body, in addition to preserving and disseminating records and written aspects of the work. The Centennial exemplifies the Trust's aims for the future: harnessing Cunningham's work, practice, ideas, and spirit in its perpetuation of his impact.
Ken Tabachnick, Executive Director of the Merce Cunningham Trust, says, "The Trust's mission is to bring Merce Cunningham's entire creative output to the public in ways that are relevant for their experience. Merce Cunningham's Centennial is an opportunity for us to pay homage to the past while we look to the future and continue the growth of Cunningham's influence on the field."
Trevor Carlson, Centennial Producer, Trustee of the Merce Cunningham Trust,and former Merce Cunningham Dance Company Executive Director, says, "Merce liked saying he didn't want to celebrate his birthday and yet he always enjoyed when we threw parties for him. My goal as Centennial Producer is to cull from the joys and knowledge gained from my past experience in producing the activities of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Archives, School and Foundation, and to use them in a rich and varied celebration that bolsters the future plans of the Trust."
Over the course of 2018-19, dozens of international performances will demonstrate the extent of Cunningham's influence throughout the arts. As part of its celebration of Cunningham's legacy, the Trust is offering companies the opportunity to perform Cunningham dances free of licensing fees during this 100th birthday celebration. Presenting institutions and companies include Ballet am Rhein (Düsseldorf, Germany), Ballet de l'Opéra national de Paris (Paris, France), Ballet West (Salt Lake City, UT), CCN - Ballet de Lorraine (Nancy, France), Chaillot Théâtre national de la danse (Paris, France), Compagnie CNDC d'Angers / Robert Swinston (Angers, France), Dance Umbrella (London, UK), Festival d'Automne à Paris (Paris, France), Harkness Dance Festival at the 92nd Street Y (NYC), Hope Mohr Dance's Bridge Project with SFMOMA's Open Space and ODC Theater (San Francisco, CA), Jacob's Pillow (Becket, MA), The Joyce Theater (NYC), La Villette (Paris, France), Le Centre national de la danse (Paris, France), Lyon Opera Ballet (Lyon, France), Montpellier Danse (Montpellier, France), the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron (Akron, OH), New York City Center (NYC), NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (NYC), Rambert (London, UK), R.B. Jérôme Bel (Paris , France), The Royal Ballet (London, UK), Royal Ballet Flanders (Antwerp, Belgium), Spectrum Dance Theater (Seattle, WA), Stephen Petronio Company (NYC), Sydney Dance Company (Sydney, Australia), Théâtre de la Ville (Paris, France), Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris, France), The Washington Ballet (Washington, DC), and more.
A highlight of the Centennial is Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, the largest Cunningham Event ever created, in which 100 dancers will be distributed across four international venues: BAM in New York City, UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles, Barbican, London, and Opéra Comique in Paris. On each of these stages, on Cunningham's 100th birthday (April 16, 2019), dancers will perform a unique collection of 100 solos he choreographed, with live music and a special set design. Each city's 75-minute Event will be tailor-made by former Cunningham dancers who, working with a team of Cunningham alumni, will create the Event and oversee the transmission of the choreography. Reflecting Cunningham's embrace of technology and the Trust's commitment to accessibility, the Trust intends to live-stream the Event.
Cunningham said the work he began in the 1970s with video and film "led to large discoveries" that gave "opportunities of working with the dance that [were] not available on the stage." Since the closure of the company, the film archive at the Trust has seen exponential growth as former collaborators and researchers documenting Cunningham's work have unearthed previously unseen film material. The Centennial brings the opportunity to showcase some of these newly acquired treasures alongside more known works from the archives. Reflecting Cunningham's early and deep commitment to working in this medium, Anthology Film Archives (NYC), High Line Art (NYC), Dance Film SF (San Francisco, CA), Dance Camera West (Los Angeles, CA), Festival Danza en la Ciudad (Bogotá, Colombia), Choreoscope - The International Dance Film Festival of Barcelona(Barcelona, Spain), and other organizations will present screenings from his body of work with film, some of which will also feature live musical performances.
The Centennial will provide a springboard for future works informed by principles shared by Cunningham and his collaborators. The Trust signals its openness to new talent and creativity through a series of workshops and performances called "In Conversation with Merce." Such events are being organized by Bridge Project with SFMOMA's Open Space and ODC Theater (San Francisco, CA), NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron,and Tonya Lockyer and Velocity Dance Center with Spectrum Dance (Seattle, WA). Rashaun Mitchell, a former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancer and a Trustee of the Merce Cunningham Trust, is coordinating many of these programs.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company had a long history of offering workshops imparting the physical and theoretical bases of Cunningham's creative activity. Centennial partners will continue this practice and offer programs teaching chance operations as a choreographic tool, the use of DanceForms movement software, and the creation of new dances based on the tenets of Cunningham's processes. These partners include Cunningham's alma mater, the Cornish College of the Arts (Seattle, WA), as well as Jacob's Pillow (Becket, MA), Works & Process at the Guggenheim (NYC), the University of Washington (Seattle, WA), The Wooden Floor (Los Angeles, CA), Festival Danza en la Ciudad, and Barbican, London.
A mainstay of the Cunningham legacy is the rigorous Cunningham Technique®, whose maintenance and dissemination occur daily through classes taught at the Trust's City Center location. In addition, the Trust has built relationships and supported programs teaching the Technique and Cunningham repertory, at numerous colleges and universities over much of the past decade. Insuring the continuing relevance of the Technique, the Centennial will include educational programs developed with, and offered by, institutions across America including Barnard College (NYC), Cornish College of the Arts, The Juilliard School (NYC), NYU Tisch School of the Arts(NYC), Purchase College SUNY (Purchase, NY), University of North Carolina School of the Arts (Winston-Salem, NC), University of Southern California, Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (Los Angeles, CA), and as well as the American Dance Festival (Durham, NC), the Colburn School (Los Angeles, CA), and Mark Morris Dance Center (Brooklyn, NY). Additional educational programs are scheduled with partners such as the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (NYC). The newly resurrected Dance Index will publish a special Cunningham issue during the spring of his 100th birthday, and The Song Cave will reissue Cunningham's 1968 book Changes: Notes on Choreography.
Since John Cage and Merce Cunningham's deaths, friends have fondly continued to honor their legacy of warm hospitality (and Cage's macrobiotic recipes) with their own occasional parties, and the Trust is promoting such activities during the Centennial. On the evening of Cunningham's 100th birthday, The Merce Cunningham Trust and the John Cage Trust are supporting former friends, collaborators, and those familiar with Cunningham in hosting dinner parties recalling evenings with Cunningham and his life partner and closest collaborator, John Cage. The dinners will feature menus built around some of Cage's favorite recipes. These are just some of a series of community-oriented events that will take place with partners, and in locales in Israel, where Cunningham was warmly received.
Looking ahead, on the occasion of the Centennial and its commitment to certain future directions, the Trust is making staffing changes in support of its strategic goals by hiring former company members in full-time roles. The Trust has designated Jennifer Goggans to lead the development of activities increasing public access to the Cunningham Technique and has appointed Daniel Madoff to thenew position of Media Director, to oversee the creation and distribution of media materials.
Initial funding for the Centennial celebration is provided by the Merce Cunningham Trust, the Paul L. Wattis Foundation, Judith Pisar (Special Envoy to UNESCO for Cultural Diplomacy), and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Logistical and other support are also provided by the Baryshnikov Arts Center (NYC) and the Le Centre national de la danse.
The Merce Cunningham Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation headquartered in New York. The Trust is overseen by eight Trustees: Trevor Carlson, Laurence Getford, Laura Kuhn, Patricia Lent, Rashaun Mitchell, Allan Sperling, Jeff Seroy, and Robert Swinston.
About Merce Cunningham
Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) is widely considered to be one of the most important choreographers of all time. His approach to performance was groundbreaking in its ideological simplicity and physical complexity: he applied the idea that "a thing is just that thing" to choreography, embracing the notion that "if the dancer dances, everything is there." He also once said, "Dance is most deeply concerned with each single instant as it comes along, and its life and vigor and attraction lie in just that singleness. It is as accurate and impermanent as breathing."
Born in Centralia, Washington on April 16, 1919, Cunningham began dancing at a young age. At the Cornish School he firstencountered the work of Martha Graham, who would later invite him to join her company in New York; Cunningham had a six-year tenure as a soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company. It was also at Cornish that Cunningham first met John Cage, who would become the greatest influence on his practice, his closest collaborator, and his life partner until Cage's death in 1992. The first show that included only Cunningham dances, a series of six solos with music by Cage, took place in 1944. Four years later, Cunningham and Cage began a relationship with the famed experimental institution Black Mountain College, where, in 1952, Cunningham, along with Robert Rauschenberg, David Tudor, M.C. Richards, and Charles Olson, joined Cage in creating what is often considered the first "Happening." Also at Black Mountain, in 1953, Cunningham first formed a dance company to explore his convention-breaking ideas. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (originally called Merce Cunningham and Dance Company) would remain in continuous operation until 2011, with Cunningham as Artistic Director until his death in 2009. In 1971, Cunningham and and his company became original tenants in Westbeth Artist Housing, remaining in residence there, along with his studio and school, until the company's dissolution. Over the course of his career, Cunningham choreographed 190 dances and over 700 "Events."
Cunningham once wrote, "My work has always been in process. I do not think of each dance as an object, rather a short stop on the way." He has described four seminal events that led to large discoveries, the first two of which came from his work with John Cage. Starting with their early collaborations in the 1940s, Cage and Cunningham began to propose a number of radical innovations, the first being the controversial idea that dance and music can occur in the same time and space but be created independently of one another. This separation gave Cunningham "a feeling of freedom for the dance, not a dependence upon the note-by-note procedure." A second leap for Cunningham and Cage was the use of chance operations, a revolutionary form of decision-making in choreography (and, in the case of Cage, music) where Cunningham applied chance operations to determine elements of the choreography such as the continuity, rhythm, timing, number of dancers, and use of space. The use of chance operations led to new discoveries, "presenting almost constantly situations in which the imagination is challenged."
Cunningham's lifelong passion for exploration and innovation made him a leader in applying new technologies to the arts. He credited his work in film in the 1970s as another key inflection point: tapping into the potentials provided by the mobility of the camera, the ability to cut and thereby alter size and rhythm, and the highlighting of specific body parts otherwise far less obvious given the distance of the viewer to the stage. In his 70s, Cunningham continued to experiment, using the computer software DanceForms to explore movement possibilities before setting them on dancers. He continued to find ways to integrate technology and dance: he explored motion-capture technology to create décor for Hand Drawn Spaces (1998), BIPED (1999), Loops (2000), and Fluid Canvas (2002). His interest in new media led to the creation of Mondays with Merce, the webcast series that provides a behind-the-scenes look at Cunningham's and his company's teaching and rehearsal process.
With long-term collaborations with artists like Robert Rauschenberg (who contributed various design elements to over 20 of Cunningham's dances-sometimes even creating his work onstage in "real-time" during the dance), Jasper Johns, Charles Atlas, and Elliot Caplan (rethinking the way choreography and dancing bodies could be captured on film), Cunningham's sphere of influence extended deep into the visual arts world. In 2017, the Walker Art Center retrospective Merce Cunningham: Common Time, (also at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago), investigated the unique working methods, profound relationships, and influence of Cunningham, featuring works from artists like Tacita Dean, Morris Graves, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Isamu Noguchi, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Carolee Schneemann, Frank Stella, Stan VanDerBeek, and Andy Warhol.
An active choreographer and mentor to the arts world until his death at the age of 90, Cunningham earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Arts (1990) and the MacArthur Fellowship (1985). He also received the Jacob's Pillow Dance Award in 2009, Japan's Praemium Imperiale in 2005, the British Laurence Olivier Award in 1985, and he was named Officier of the Legion d'Honneur in France in 2004. Cunningham's life and artistic vision have been the subject of several books and numerous major exhibitions, and his dances have been performed by groups including the Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, White Oak Dance Project, the Lyon Opera Ballet, Ballett am Rhein, and London's Rambert, to name a few.
Cunningham died in his New York City home on July 26, 2009. Always forward-thinking, he oversaw the development of a precedent-setting Legacy Plan prior to his death, to guide his Company and ensure the preservation of his artistic legacy. Through the Merce Cunningham Trust, his vision continues to live on, regenerated time and time again through new bodies and minds.
About the Merce Cunningham Trust
Merce Cunningham had a profound impact on the cultural world. His approach to how the body moves in time and space continues to reframe the ways movement and choreography are understood, and to inform artists across a wide range of creative practices. Cunningham's choreographic process resulted in singular and unique dances. His ideas-like the notion of dance being exactly what it is, independent and without reference to other things-are inseparable from his work.
The Merce Cunningham Trust preserves, enhances, and maintains the integrity of Cunningham's artistic work and processes, and makes his works available to the public. Established by Cunningham in 2000, and now under the leadership of eight Trustees and Executive Director Ken Tabachnick, the Trust promotes Cunningham's artistic legacy as a living, breathing thing, passed down to those who embody, view, or perceive it. The Trust looks toward a vital future, forging community by promoting public engagement with Cunningham's work, celebrating his unique contributions, and seeing his influence reflected in the works of new generations of choreographers and dancers.
To fully realize Cunningham's relevance, the Trust addresses the need for a legacy informed by Cunningham's practice, thought, and spirit. The Trust facilitates access to and experience of his work, training dancers in his technique; providing stagers with vital resources to develop their craft; supporting the development of audiences for his work; and fostering creativity directly connected to this legacy in order to offer its utility to a new generation of practicing artists.
The Trust licenses Cunningham dances to leading dance companies and educational institutions worldwide, and partners with cultural organizations for special projects, fellowships, workshops, performances, and exhibitions that celebrate Cunningham's artistic achievements. In addition, Trust activities include daily classes in Cunningham Technique® taught by former Cunningham dancers at City Center Studios and the Cunningham Fellowship. Those awarded a fellowship reconstruct a Cunningham work by engaging in a multi-week intensive workshop with pre-professional and professional dancers.
During 2018 and 2019, the Trust will celebrate the Centennial of Cunningham's birth with activities around the world that will evoke the spirit of Cunningham's work. The Centennial celebration exemplifies the Trust's aims for the future, harnessing performance and practice in its perpetuation of his legacy.
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, whose Jerome Robbins Dance Division acquired the Merce Cunningham Archive (in 2001) and the archive of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (in 2012), is the repository of decades of Cunningham's manuscripts and records, choreographic notes and thousands of films and videotapes. This collection is the most accessed at the Dance Division. Likewise, the Walker Arts Center is the home of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's costumes, theatrical objects, and décor-60 years of collaborations with leading visual artists-in what is the single largest collection in the Walker's history. The Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Baryshnikov Arts Center have aligned with the Trust in offering awards in Merce Cunningham's name, supporting artists who represent and embody his ethos.
The Merce Cunningham Trust was officially recognized as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation in 2002, and is headquartered at New York's City Center. The Trust is overseen by eight Trustees: Trevor Carlson, Laurence Getford, Laura Kuhn, Patricia Lent, Rashaun Mitchell, Allan Sperling, Jeff Seroy, and Robert Swinston.