Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was a choreographer. He started his career as a dancer with Martha Graham’s company, and then left to start his own company. The company, which was created over 60 years ago, is now closed. The collection brings together material about the workings of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The papers contain financial materials, grant applications, correspondence, administrative material, programs, photographs and production notes. There is no personal material.
Biographical/historical: Merce Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington. He first started formal dance training at the Cornish Institute of Allied Arts in Seattle. From 1939 to 1945 he was a soloist in the Martha Graham Company. While performing with Martha Graham, Cunningham began to choreograph independently, and presented his first New York solo concert with John Cage in 1944. He continued to present annual concerts by himself or with an ad hoc group of dancers, until the formation of Merce Cunningham Dance Company at Black Mountain College in the summer of 1953. Since that time he has choreographed well over one hundred works for his Company.
Cunningham has also choreographed two works for the New York City Ballet, and the Paris Opera Ballet. Throughout the years he has collaborated with many well-known people and organizations, including the Boston Ballet, the filmmaker Charles Atlas, and Elliot Caplan.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company was born in the summer of 1953. Cunningham took a group of dancers who had been working with him to Black Mountain College, the progressive liberal arts school in North Carolina. The group included Carolyn Brown, Remy Charlip, Viola Farber and Paul Taylor. John Cage was musical director and David Tudor the Company musician. Both men have continued to be associated with the Company.
The Company has toured all over the world to great praise. Music and art have been an integral part of the choreography and the Company has worked with many world-renowned artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Mark Lancaster, Charles Atlas and Elliot Caplan.
Content: The collection consists of material created and used in the operation of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, Inc. the organization that houses the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
There is material related to company touring and seasons in New York, especially administrative material used in the planning of dance tours and dance seasons. There is research material that was used in locating and acquiring grant funding. Also included are photographs of dance performances, some dating back to the 1930’s. In addition there is an extensive collection of programs. These programs begin in the 1930’s and continue through 2003.
There is no personal material in the collection.