MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 1985

Merce Cunningham

Choreographer

New York, New York

Age: 66 at time of award

Deceased: July 26, 2009

Published July 1, 1985

Merce Cunningham was a choreographer and the director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

Cunningham created more than 160 dances, most of them for his company, which was formed in 1953.  Characterized by movement free of specific expression or intention, and a separation of dance from music, his works were seen in the repertories of the New York City Ballet, the American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the Rambert Dance Company, among others. 

Cunningham’s dances include Pictures (1984), Points in Space (1986), Fabrications (1987), Five Stone Wind (1988) Enter (1992), Ocean (1994), Ground Level Overlay (1995), BIPED (1999), Interscape (2000), and Split Sides (2003).  Cunningham collaborated on two books, Changes, Notes on Choreography (Frances Starr, 1968) and The Dancer and the Dance, interviews with Jacqueline Lesschaeve (1985).  Cunningham worked extensively in film and video, and in collaboration with Charles Atlas, produced the documentary, “Merce Cunningham: A Lifetime in Dance,” which was shown on PBS's American Masters in 2001.

Cunningham received his first formal dance and theater training at the Cornish School in Seattle and began choreographing in 1942.  

Last updated January 1, 2005.

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