Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective. Danielle is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities at UT Dallas, and her first book, The Politics of State Public Arts Funding, is out now.
On Sunday, the dance world has lost one of its greatest contributors, Merce Cunningham. He was 90-years-old.
One of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century, Cunningham died “peacefully in his home … of natural causes,” said Leah Sandals, a spokeswoman for the Cunningham Dance Foundation.
Merce Cunningham was at the forefront of the American avant-garde for more than 70 years. Throughout much of his life, he was considered one of the greatest American dancers. As a choreographer, teacher and director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, he reshaped modern dance, creating bodies of work that questioned the traditional premises of dancing. He never made things easy for his audience. His dances shunned narrative and character; they were simply about dynamic human bodies moving in space.
“What interests me is movement,” Cunningham said in a 2005 interview with Bloomberg News. “Not movement that necessarily refers to something else, but is just what it is. Like when you see somebody or an animal move, you don’t have to know what it’s doing.”
This new language of dance produced many memorable pieces including Summerspace (1958), with its dancers streaming past Rauschenberg’s pointillist backdrop in matching leotards; the athletic How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (1965); RainForest (1968), in which the dancers personified jungle creatures coexisting with Andy Warhol’s silvery, helium-lofted pillows; the intergalactic Sounddance (1975); the Einstein inspired Points in Space (1986-1987); and Ocean (1994), an authoritative piece that has its dancers framed by concentric rings — the spectators and, behind them, the musicians.
Today, Cunningham’s work is considered the great link between the mid-century moderns (from Martha Graham to Paul Taylor) and the postmodern choreographers who emerged in the 1970s such as Twyla Tharp, rebelling against traditional theatrical conventions.
Even after he turned 90, he went on choreographing for his dancers. In April 2009, Cunningham celebrated his birthday with the premiere of a new work, Nearly Ninety, in New York. Dancers who have trained with him who have gone on to form their own companies include Paul Taylor, whose company travels to Dallas every year performing and conducting master classes.
“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,” said Judith Fishman, chairman of the Cunningham Dance Foundation.
Cunningham’s influence and theory of dance will be forever remembered, practiced and performed. He reshaped the way we move and view the stage. His legacy will resonate in the dance world today and in future generations.