Merce Cunningham (1919-2009)


Merce Cunningham, who has died aged 90, was one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, and the greatest American-born one. As a choreographer, he never abandoned the voyage of discovery that he embarked on at the beginning of his career. Like his life partner and frequent collaborator, the composer John Cage, he remained intransigent to the last. He continued to lead his dance company, founded in 1953, until his death, and presented a new work, Nearly Ninety, last April, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York, to mark his 90th birthday. In spite of what was often seen as his iconoclasm, his work was essentially classical in its formal qualities, its rigour, and its purity. Both Cunningham and Cage used chance processes, though in very different ways: Cage carried them through to the actual performance of his music, while Cunningham used them only in the creation of the choreography itself. As with any other compositional tool, what really matters is the quality of the imagination at work. Apart from Cunningham’s sheer fecundity of invention, his choreography was notable for its strength of structure, even though that structure was organic rather than preconceived.

more from David Vaughan at The Guardian here.