Merce Cunningham: the name itself evokes an almost visceral response from anyone even remotely attentive towards the world of dance. Referred to as a post-modern dance master, Cunningham was a highly creative and supremely dedicated patron of the arts, bringing to audiences a fresh perspective on movement with his innovation of chance dances, personal reticence towards the meaning behind his art, and the marriage of dance with architecture and technology; indeed, his “deft, nonchalant style” has endeared him to history, which has honored him in reverence of his stark technique, indomitable spirit, and clear ingenuity (Rogosin p.61).
Cunningham, born Mercier Philip Cunningham in Washington, expressed an early interest in dance at the age of ten; several years after, he received his formal training at Cornish Row, now Cornish College of the Arts. It was in the midst of a formal dance education that his career truly began when he caught the eye of instructor Martha Graham, who invited him to New York to dance with her company. There he performed most notably in Every Soul is a Circus on Broadway, as well as the role of the preacher in the famed Appalachian Spring (“Merce Cunningham Obituary”).
The time came that Cunningham desired to create his own works as opposed to submitting himself to the movement of others. Of his training with Martha Graham and the eventual divergence of their paths, Cunningham has said,
I don’t even want a dancer to start thinking that a movement means something . . . That was what I really didn’t like about working with Martha Graham – the idea that was always being given to you that a particular movement meant something specific. I thought that was nonsense (Mazo p.208).
In fact, Cunningham often chose not to comment upon his own works; he did not want to impose on another’s abstractions. Asked about his dances, he made pithy remarks: “You see a chair strapped on my back. Can’t we just say, ‘How strange?’” (Roseman p.39)....