Merce Cunningham. Only his name need be uttered in dance circles and a sense of reverence follows. Cunningham was one of the most influential, radically inventive, and avant-garde choreographers in dance in a century. His career in dance spanned an unimaginable 70 years, from dancing as a soloist for Martha Graham, to starting his own dance company, which he choreographed for virtually until the time of his death, which was reported earlier today by the New York Times. In fact, he appeared in every single performance his company put up until 1989, at the age of 80.
He was one of the major forces which allowed the Western world to rethink dance and propelled it into a true art form and theatrical form. In addition, he not only was a prime shaper of the early modern dance movement, but a key founder of post-modern dance as well. Implementing ideas like chance, technology, and collaboration with artists of different art forms, Cunningham continually reinvented the field of dance, pushing the boundary of what we considered dance.
It was openly known that Cunningham was gay. In fact his life-spanning partnership, both romantically and artistically, with visionary pianist and composer John Cage, was one of the hallmarks of his work. Cunningham and Cage both heavily influenced each other and together were a monumental force in New York art circles for decades. Their pairing radically changed the face of American art for their generations.
It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to an American legend. Merce Cunningham was a powerful influence on my own journey through dance and choreography. It's also tremendously important for me that we recognize that the work which came out of Merce Cunningham and John Cage's relationship is one part of the many contributions the queer community has given to enrich our culture and our identities.
Art21 has posted a full-length documentary on Cunningham in honor of his passing, I haven't watched the whole thing, but if you're interested on finding out more about Merce Cunningham's fascinating life, that's a good place to start.