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Merce Cunningham Trust Announces Morgan Amirah Burns And Alex Larson As Recipients Of Inaugural Barbara Ensley Award


The award is named in honor of Merce Cunningham Studio faculty member Barbara Ensley.

The Merce Cunningham Trust today announces Morgan Amirah Burns and Alex Larson as the recipients of the Barbara Ensley Award, inaugurated this year with the aim of expanding opportunities for BIPOC dance artists to engage with and benefit from the legacy of Merce Cunningham, and to provide the resources and stability to explore and participate in the broader New York City dance community. The award is named in honor of Merce Cunningham Studio faculty member Barbara Ensley (1936-2021), who taught the Fundamentals class taken by incoming students. The award furthers the Trust's mission to share the legacy of Merce Cunningham as broadly as possible and to promote an environment of belonging and inclusion. The award offers $10,000 and a package of non-financial support and mentoring to young BIPOC dance artists making the transition from college-level training programs to professional dance careers. The award period runs for six months, during which time the recipients are based in New York City.

Patricia Lent, Merce Cunningham Trust Director of Licensing and Ensley Award Liaison, said, "Both Morgan and Alex have articulated clear artistic goals and a vision for how this award will help them progress toward those goals. We are thrilled to support these young artists, and to honor Barbara Ensley for decades of insightful, passionate teaching."

Ken Tabachnick, Executive Director of the Trust, said, "This Award represents the Trust's commitment to sharing the Cunningham legacy with future practitioners as they pursue their artistic vision and path. The Trustees are firmly committed to building a sustainable diverse dance ecology in which the legacy has a place. Alex and Morgan are the perfect initial awardees for this support."

Morgan Amirah Burns is a multi-disciplinary artist who originally hails from Atlanta and graduated with a BFA from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. She recently founded the Collegiate Association for Artists of Color (C.A.A.C.), a grassroots organization started by and for young American artists of color pursuing a higher education in the Arts. Morgan was also awarded a Moving Woman Residency from Brooklyn-based dance company GALLIM to explore and create movement investigating facets of her in-progress film, In Her Shoes.

Alex Larson will complete his pre-professional training at University of Hartford's Hartt School and receive his BFA in June 2022. Alex also has a great love for teaching dance. He has developed his own specialized class for pre-teens and teenagers, "Contemporary and Modern Fusion." He is passionate about improvisation, collaboration, and mindfulness through dancing.

In addition to the $10,000 grant, each recipient will:

  • be paired with a mentor-offering a bridge to the professional dance community, and a space for periodic discussion and reflection, inquiry and self-evaluation. The mentor will receive an honorarium from the Trust.
  • have unlimited free access to the Trust's daily Cunningham Technique classes, with the aim of cultivating a consistent physical practice and building a "home base."
  • be encouraged to broaden their training and exposure by attending classes and workshops at other studios and venues.

Recipients may incorporate into their programs numerous other ways to develop their professional skills and deepen their relationship to Merce Cunningham's legacy. They will be invited to participate free of charge in periodic Cunningham repertory and chance operations workshops as well as being encouraged to participate in other workshops and programs throughout the city. They will be given access to Cunningham archival materials (video, choreographic notes, photographs, performance records, etc.), and guidance in studying and analyzing these materials-including introductions to individuals with expertise in particular areas of interest. The Barbara Ensley Award also grants the opportunity to work with an authorized MCT stager to learn a Cunningham solo, which may be publicly performed and/or used for audition purposes. They may also work with an authorized MCT stager to study a Cunningham solo as a tool for developing choreographic skills and/or creating original choreography and pursue other areas of special interest that emerge over the course of the program.

Barbara Ensley, who was selected by Cunningham to teach at his studio, was the primary teacher of the Fundamentals class, and the first teacher for countless newcomers to the studio. She is remembered for welcoming and encouraging new students, and for providing a thorough and insightful introduction to Cunningham Technique. "Barbara's time at the studio, spanning so many years, was a gift outright to the Merce Cunningham community of artists," said Diane Frank, who served on the faculty with Ensley.

The award, to be offered annually, was developed with the help of an advisory group that includes Kyle Abraham, Michael Cole, Neil Greenberg, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Patricia Lent, Keith Sabado, and Andrea Weber. The two recipients were selected by a review panel following an open application process. Both Ms. Burns and Mr. Larson plan to begin their six-month award period in June 2022.

Merce Cunningham Trust Announces Morgan Amirah Burns And Alex Larson As Recipients Of Inaugural Barbara Ensley Award

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