Merce Cunningham is widely considered one of the most important choreographers of all time. Throughout his 70-year career, he continued to innovate, helping to drive the evolution of the American avant-garde and expanding the frontiers of contemporary visual and performance arts. His collaborations with artists from every creative discipline yielded an unparalleled body of American dance, music, and visual art.
On April 16, 2018, which would have been his 99th birthday, the Merce Cunningham Trust announced a global celebration of his work to begin this and continue through 2019. Over the course of 2018–19, dozens of international performances will demonstrate the extent of Cunningham’s influence throughout the arts.
The celebration will include performances (the Trust is offering companies the opportunity to perform works free of licensing fees), film screenings, discussions, curricula and education events, workshops, festive dinner gatherings and more, presented by major companies, institutions and festivals worldwide including, in the UK, the Barbican Centre, Dance Umbrella, Rambert Dance Company and The Royal Ballet
A highlight of the centennial is Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, the largest Cunningham Event ever created, in which 100 dancers will be distributed across four international venues: BAM in New York City; UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles, the Barbican in London and the Opéra Comique in Paris. At each venue, on Cunningham’s 100th birthday (April 16, 2019), dancers will perform a unique collection of 100 solos he choreographed, with live music and a special set design. Each city’s 75-minute event will be tailor-made by former Cunningham dancers who, working with a team of Cunningham alumni, will oversee the choreography. Reflecting Cunningham’s embrace of technology and the Trust’s commitment to accessibility, the event will be live-streamed.
Cunningham said the work he began in the 1970s with video and film “led to large discoveries” that gave “opportunities of working with the dance that [were] not available on the stage.” Since the closure of the company, the film archive at the Trust has seen exponential growth as former collaborators and researchers documenting Cunningham’s work have unearthed previously unseen film material. The Centennial brings the opportunity to showcase some of these newly acquired treasures alongside more known works from the archives.
“My work has always been in process. I do not think of each dance as an object, rather a short stop on the way.” Merce Cunningham
The Centennial will also provide a springboard for future works informed by principles shared by Cunningham and his collaborators. The Trust signals its openness to new talent and creativity through a series of workshops and performances called “In Conversation with Merce,” to be staged across the US.
The Merce Cunningham Dance Company had a long history of offering workshops imparting the physical and theoretical bases of Cunningham’s creative activity. Centennial partners will continue this practice and offer programs teaching chance operations as a choreographic tool, the use of DanceForms movement software, and the creation of new dances based on the tenets of Cunningham’s processes. Among the workshop hosts will be London’s Barbican.