News: Merce Cunningham 1919 - 2009

Monday 27 July 2009

US choreographer Merce Cunningham has “died peacefully in his home of natural causes” aged 90 years old.

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company first performed at London’s Dance Umbrella Festival in 1989 and made regular appearances over the years. Last season the company brought two programmes of work to the festival, including Cunningham’s latest duet at the time, XOVER, alongside other classic pieces from his repertoire. Archived programme details

Dance Umbrella pays tribute:

Betsy Gregory, Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella said:
“It is with great sadness that we heard of Merce Cunningham’s passing. Dance Umbrella has enjoyed a close relationship with Merce and his wonderful company for the past 20 years and we are privileged to have worked with him on some of his most innovative projects including Anniversary Events at Tate Modern and Ocean at The Roundhouse.

Merce was continually moving forward, pushing at the boundaries of what dance can be. In a career spanning more than 60 years he was endlessly curious, working on new ideas right up until the end. The world has lost a great artist; those of us who knew him have lost a delightful and wonderful friend”.

Val Bourne, Founder and former Artistic Director of Dance Umbrella:
“There are only a few truly great choreographers in the world and Merce Cunningham was certainly one of those. I will always feel honoured and privileged to have known him both professionally and personally. I have had huge pleasure watching his ground-breaking work over more than 30 years and I am especially proud that he dedicated a work to me.

I still remember the thrill of being able to present his company for the first time as part of the Dance Umbrella festival in 1989 and then again more recently when Dance Umbrella initiated Anniversary Events at Tate Modern and Ocean at The Roundhouse. As long as I have been working in dance, Merce Cunningham has always been there and while he was making wonderful work, even at 90, I felt that all was right with the world. Now he’s gone and I feel bereft, as must many, many others”.

Alistair Spalding, Chief Executive and Artistic Director of Sadler’s Wells said:
“I was very sad to hear of the death of Merce Cunningham over the weekend, although he lived to a good age it is still a great loss to the world of choreography following so soon on the death of Pina Bausch.

He was one of the true innovators of our time having created a whole new approach to choreographic practice and to how art is made. He was constantly moving forward finding new collaborators and new ways to extend his artistic practice never falling back on what he knew. His contribution to 20th Century art is immense and we will never see his like again.”

Alistair Spalding also pays tribute to Cunningham in the Observer:
“He continued in the tradition of Diaghilev, bringing together the greatest artists of his time, in his case immersing himself in the downtown New York scene that included Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and his other long-term collaborator, Robert Rauschenberg. I think his approach to collaboration will be his legacy.” Observer, 2 August.09

Anthony Bowne, Director of Laban, pays tribute:
“We at Laban are deeply saddened to hear of Merce Cunningham’s death. His influence on the world of dance cannot be overemphasised.

Laban has been connected to Merce Cunningham since the 1930’s. It was Bonnie Bird, latterly our Artistic Director in the 1970’s and 1980’s that first introduced Merce to his long time collaborator John Cage. Bonnie was teaching dance at the Cornish School in Seattle, Merce was her student and John was her accompanist. Later we were thrilled to have Merce and John in London to lead a summer school for us. Our links are just as strong today; our second year undergraduate students will, hopefully, be recreating a piece of Cunningham repertoire in February and we are proud to have Dylan Crossman, a Laban graduate of 2006 in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Our world will be the poorer for his passing.”

Judith Fishman, chairman of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, said:
“Merce was an artistic maverick and the gentlest of geniuses.
“We have lost a great man and a great artist, but we celebrate his extraordinary life, his art, and the dancers and the artists with whom he worked.” BBC news, 27 July 2009


Clement Crisp highlights the essence of Cunningham’s work and explains why he is considered the ‘grand master of modern dance’,
“His output proclaims him as one of the great creators in any art of our time, his choreography tremendous in its humanity as in its unfailing power to tell of the potential and the power of dance as an expression of the human spirit.” Financial Times, 27 July.09

Debra Craine reflects back on his work,
“In many ways Cunningham was an unreconstructed revolutionary as well as the father of American modern dance.” Times, 27 July.09
‘He loved movement and he looked for it everywhere, even in the beating of a butterfly’s wings. And he put that passion for pure dance on stage time and time again. “I am fascinated by the possibility of something I haven’t found yet,” he once told me.’ Times, 1 August.09

Judith Mackrell explains what it was that made Cunningham’s work so compelling,
“Watching a Cunningham dance could be as absorbing and overwhelming as observing a landscape, a starlit sky or a city crowd.” Guardian, 27 July.09

Charlotte Higgins says: “ A visit to the great choreographer’s studio was one of the most memorable, and moving, events of my career”. Guardian, 28 Jul 09

The Guardian celebrates Cunningham’s work with a gallery of images, Guardian, 27 July.09

Ismene Brown in the Telegraph,
“His dance was a moving human sculpture in air, unmistakable in its lusciously extended lines and microscopically filigreed detail, every second and every angle thought through. Simply, he made people try to dance more ravishingly and thoroughly, for dance’s own sake, than had ever been asked.” Telegraph, 28 July.09

“Cunningham, whose influence in modern dance is typically ranked along with George Balanchine and Martha Graham, his one-time mentor, announced a “Living Legacy Plan” in June, a trust charged with overseeing the integrity of his teachings.” Telegraph, 27 July.09

“With Cage, Cunningham arrived at a philosophy that informed his work for the rest of his life. He decided that dance need not be tied to music or story: pure movement was enough.” Telegraph, 27 July.09

“Cunningham ranks with Isadora Duncan, Serge Diaghilev, Martha Graham and George Balanchine in making people rethink the essence of dance and choreography, posing a series of “But” and “What if?” questions over a career of nearly seven decades.” Alastair Macaulay, New York Times, 27 July.09

“A compelling dancer himself, Cunningham created a body of work that questioned the traditional premises of dancing, providing unique answers that were both baffling and beautiful.” Tobi Tobias,, 27 July.09

“In a career that spanned more than 60 years and some 150 works, Cunningham wiped out storytelling in dance, tossed coins or dice to determine steps, and shattered such unwritten rules as having dancers usually face the audience.” Polly Anderson, Associated Press in the Independent, 27 July.09

Related articles
Laura Barnett interviewed Cunningham last year Guardian, 30 Sep.09
Cunningham outlines his dance legacy plans Daniel.J.Wakin, New York Times, 9 June.09 Archived Reviews=

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