Walter Kenndy is a University Professor of Dance, & he was a principal dancer with the internationally acclaimed Lewitzky Dance Company for 20 years. Because of him, I know more about dance than most civilians, yet I always feel a bit awkward when I do posts on dancers & choreographers. He may wish to weigh in.
With his partner in life & art- John Cage, Merce Cunningham, born on this day in 1919, created some of the most memorable dance pieces of the 20th century & beyond. He is considered to be one of the world’s greatest choreographers. Cunningham ranks with Isadora Duncan, Serge Diaghilev, Martha Graham & George Balanchine in giving the public the chance to rethink the essence of dance & choreography.
Cunningham met Cage soon after he moved to New York from Washington State, where he was discovered by Martha Graham. His first solo concert, in 1944, was in collaboration with Cage, & the couple remained together until Cage’s death in 1992.
Cage on the left with Cunningham in the late 1950s
Cunningham formed his own dance company in 1953. The company quickly became known for innovation & established itself as an important contributor to the post-war New York dance scene.
Robert Rauschenberg worked as the company’s stage manager, & collaboration with artists-Richard Serra, Jasper Johns & Sol LeWitt continued into the new century. As late as 2007, Cunningham & Rauschenberg continued topremiere new pieces.
Cage was as influential in the world of serious music as Cunningham was in dance. The couple were an artistic punch that slammed through the conventions of post-war America. They experimented with chance encounters of dance, music, & structures.
Cunningham never stopped challenging himself. That he also challenged the rest of us is our enduring good fortune. Cunningham continued to dance into old age. At 80, he danced with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Cunningham gradually relinquished day to day management of his dance company. On July 26, 2009, he died peacefully in his sleep in his Manhattan home.