Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was the avatar of dance for dance's sake. You will find no programmatic narrative entwined into a Cunningham composition. Though the titles of the works are often evocative—Suite for Five (1956-1958), How To Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (1965), Pictures (1984), Native Green (1985), Fabrications(1987), Pond Way (1998) Fluid Canvas (2002), Loose Time (2002), Split Sides(2003)—they generally serve as little more than a point of departure for both artist and audience and can sometimes stand in counterpoint to what the dancers are doing.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company was formed at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1953. Cunningham's 200 works have been performed not only by his own company but also by the New York City Ballet, the Ballet of the Paris Opéra, American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, White Oak Dance Project, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Zurich Ballet and the Rambert Dance Company (London), among others.
Cunningham worked closely with a number of partners, especially his companion, the composer John Cage, and the artist Robert Rauschenberg. He worked extensively in film and video, in collaboration first with Charles Atlas and later with Elliot Caplan. In 1999 the collaboration with Atlas was resumed with the production of the documentary Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime in Dance, which was shown on the PBS's American Masters. Cunningham's interest in contemporary technology also led him to work with the computer program DanceForms, which he used in composing all his dances since Trackers (1991).
In 1997 he began work in motion capture with Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar of Riverbed Media to develop the decor for BIPED, with music by Gavin Bryars, first performed in 1999 at Zellerbach Hall, University of California at Berkeley. Another major work, Interscape, (2000) reunited Cunningham with his early collaborator Robert Rauschenberg, who designed both the décor and costumes for the dance, which has music by John Cage.
In October 2000, Cunningham received the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. Other honors include: the Handel Medallion from the Mayor of New York City (1999); the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennale (1995); and the Wexner Prize of the Wexner Center for the Arts, Ohio State University, Columbus (with John Cage, posthumously, 1993); National Medal of Arts (1990); Kennedy Center Honors (1985); a Laurence Olivier Award (1985); and a MacArthur Fellowship.
The studio's educational outreach program introduces the work and ideas of Merce Cunningham to school groups and offers creative movement classes and visits to the studio, as well as performances by the Cunningham Repertory Group.