Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Sad, Sad Day in the Art World -Merce Cunningham

The Art World is grieving the loss of one of the most influential contributors of modern dance and choreography. Merce* Cunningham (4/16/1919 to 7/26/2009) died of natural causes at the age of 90. Cunningham was a great inspiration in the Art World. I wish I could go on and on about his brilliance and his philosophies, but then it would turn into a research paper that nobody would want to read. I’m sure that a lot of younger people may not be able to identify Cunningham or be in touch with what he did, so I’ll try to briefly highlight some of his major ideas and beliefs while trying not to bore you all to death. He’s definitely an artist worth studying and, if you can, visit his website

*Merce?! Pronunciation, please: “MURSS”

Major Contributions to the Art World: Cunningham was considered an avant-garde dancer and choreographer who created dance primarily based on movement. His mission was to use movement as a way to go through and across space without the necessity of using a storyline.

Cunningham identified two principals of movement:
movement that is learned, studied, structured, classically styled, and used as language
2. movement that is invented and is constantly being invented

I was interested in dancing and I didn’t particularly care the kind of dancing. I was interested in information and trying to find out what made movement up. What is it? The fact that somebody said that it’s a ballet step or isn’t a ballet step didn’t seem to me to be terribly important of what was and still is important. -Cunnhingham, 2009.

The Cunningham Mission: Starting out as a tap dancer who later studied ballet and modern dance, Cunningham went through his lifetime searching the different ways to express the natural motions of dance that communicated art on another level.

Music and Dance: Typically, music supports the dance. The rhythm and sounds emphasize a jump, a twirl, or a still pose that assists in telling a theatrical story. Cunningham changed the dynamic relationship between music and dance. He realized that that the two could co-exist without having to support each other. His idea was that people did not need a music beat in order to walk down the street. As a result, he created and choreographed pieces using music and dance that would typically not flow together based on beat. Most of his musical collaborations were created with his longtime partner John Cage (1912 - 1992) –for those of you who don’t know, Cage was a famous avant-garde musician who was influenced by Zen Buddhism’s principals. Cage believed that focusing your attention on something -even the most boring subject matter -could transform everyday occurrences into an aesthetically and spiritually interesting experience.

Visual Art and Dance: Cunningham also worked with contemporary artists from the time, such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns. Rauschenberg would create art pieces that Cunningham would hang on the stage and his dance required moving around, under, or even through it. Requested by Johns, Cunningham also used a Marcel Duchamp piece titled “Large Glass” and based his dance around the art piece. Cunningham did not believe in telling the visual artists what to do. He wanted the artists to create whatever they chose, because there were no rules or narratives in depicting a dance piece for Cunningham.

Interesting Information about Cunningham: Cunningham was one of the pioneers who did not require dancers to face the audience while performing. It has also been said that Cunningham would toss coins or roll dice in order to determine dance steps for a performance.


  1. u should write a book or something!!! i thought it was goin' to bore me but i actually learned something i did't know b4. ur other posts r infrmative 2. curse u!!!

  2. Thank you for your comment! I'm only sorry that my writing makes you want to curse me (I seem to have that affect on people).