The Merce Cunningham Dance Company Choreographic records contain materials relating to over 100 of Cunningham's original works. These primarily reflect pieces created for the Company, but there are some notes relating to Cunningham's early compositions created between 1942 and 1952. Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was a dancer, choreographer, and founder of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Biographical/historical: Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was a dancer, choreographer, and founder of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He was born in Centralia, Washington and began his professional modern dance career at age 20, dancing as a soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company for six years. Cunningham showed promise as a choreographer and presented his first solo show in 1944, acting as both dancer and choreographer.
He formed Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Black Mountain College in 1953. The company provided a platform for collaboration with John Cage, the musical advisor from its inception until his death in 1992. Together, Cunningham and Cage proposed a number of innovations; the most famous of these concerned the relationship between dance and music. While they conceded they should occur in the same time and space, they felt they should be created independently of one another. Cunningham also collaborated with Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and many others. For Cunningham, the subject of his dances was always dance itself.
Invention and reinvention were a hallmark of the Merce Cunningham Company, and a new genre, the Event, rose from these experiments. Cunningham would splice together different elements from past compositions – solos, duets, costumes, décor, and music to create wholly new experiences – giving new meaning to each piece as it was removed from its original context. Over his career he created over 150 individual works and more than 800 Events.
During the 1970s, Cunningham began to explore filming dance as an art form. In 1989 he began experimenting with composing dances on the computer and Trackers (1991) became his first piece composed in this way. Cunningham danced with the company as he aged, and even after he began to use a wheelchair, continued to choreograph.
After Cunningham's death in 2009, the company embarked on its final, two-year world tour.
Content: The Merce Cunningham Dance Company Choreographic records contain materials relating to over 100 of Cunningham's original works. These primarily reflect pieces created for the Company, but there are some notes relating to Cunningham's early compositions created between 1942 and 1952. The materials consist of choreographic notebooks, both bound and loose, all in Cunningham's hand. There are charts, time outlines, sketches, and names of individual dancers. Most notebooks reflect several periods of change as the dances were premiered and then later pulled back in for use in "Events." There are some Event outlines and plans within the records, as well as choreographic notes for dance workshops given by Cunningham. Many of the notes are dated. Some folders contain a typed explanation of the work by Cunningham, describing what the focus of the specific piece was and ideas he was attempting to explore.
Extent: 9.17 linear feet (22 boxes, 1 oversized folder)