Merce Cunningham Trust announces Global Centennial Celebration of the choreographer’s Legacy

Merce Cunningham

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.

Today, which would have been his 99th birthday, the Merce Cunningham Trust announces a global celebration that will give a broad audience the opportunity to experience the range of his work and artistic process.

Beginning in the fall of 2018, and continuing throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Centennial will unite people, cities, and arts and educational institutions in a large-scale representation of this vibrant legacy.

The Centennial will include performances; film screenings; discussions; curricula; festive dinner gatherings; and more, in cities across the U.S. and around the world.

Prior to Cunningham’s death in 2009, he and close advisors developed a groundbreaking plan to ensure the preservation of his legacy.

Comprehensive in its scope, the Legacy Plan called for a final two-year world tour for his dance company, culminating in a final homecoming in New York City before disbanding; transition arrangements for the company’s dancers and staff; and the disposition of assets such as choreographic rights, costumes, props, and other materials to the Trust and to respected institutions that would make them available to the public.

The Merce Cunningham Trust strives to maintain Cunningham’s legacy through active engagement with new generations of dancers and audiences. Paramount in its efforts is the goal of ensuring that the proper environment and resources exist for Cunningham’s work to flourish with these groups.

Recognizing the unique nature of dance, including its ephemerality, the Trust focuses on how Cunningham’s choreographic output can be transmitted from body to body, in addition to preserving and disseminating records and written aspects of the work.

The Centennial exemplifies the Trust’s aims for the future: harnessing Cunningham’s work, practice, ideas, and spirit in its perpetuation of his impact.

Merce Cunningham and his company performing Rain Forest. Photo by Jack Mitchell: Getty Images
Merce Cunningham and his company performing Rain Forest. Photo by Jack Mitchell: Getty Images

Over the course of 2018–19, dozens of international performances will demonstrate the extent of Cunningham’s influence throughout the arts. As part of its celebration of Cunningham’s legacy, the Trust is offering companies the opportunity to perform Cunningham dances free of licensing fees during this 100th birthday celebration. Presenting institutions and companies include:

Ballet am Rhein (Düsseldorf, Germany), Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris (Paris, France), Ballet West (Salt Lake City, UT), CCN – Ballet de Lorraine (Nancy, France), Chaillot Théâtre national de la danse (Paris, France), Compagnie CNDC d’Angers / Robert Swinston (Angers, France), Dance Umbrella (London, UK), Festival d’Automne à Paris (Paris, France), Harkness Dance Festival at the 92nd Street Y (NYC), Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project with SFMOMA’s Open Space and ODC Theater (San Francisco, CA), Jacob’s Pillow (Becket, MA), The Joyce Theater (NYC), La Villette (Paris, France), Le Centre national de la danse (Paris, France), Lyon Opera Ballet (Lyon, France), Montpellier Danse (Montpellier, France), the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron (Akron, OH), New York City Center (NYC), NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts (NYC), Rambert (London, UK), R.B. Jérôme Bel (Paris , France), The Royal Ballet (London, UK), Royal Ballet Flanders (Antwerp, Belgium), Spectrum Dance Theater (Seattle, WA), Stephen Petronio Company (NYC), Sydney Dance Company (Sydney, Australia), Théâtre de la Ville (Paris, France), Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris, France), The Washington Ballet (Washington, DC), and more. 

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, Barbican, London, and Opéra Comique in Paris.

On each of these stages, 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 create the Event and oversee the transmission of the choreography.

Reflecting Cunningham’s embrace of technology and the Trust’s commitment to accessibility, the Trust intends to live-stream the Event.

Merce Cunningham in Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three (1952). Photo by Gerda Peterich
Merce Cunningham in Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three (1952). Photo by Gerda Peterich

The Centennial will 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.”

Such events are being organized by Bridge Project with SFMOMA’s Open Space and ODC Theater (San Francisco, CA), NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron, and Tonya Lockyer and Velocity Dance Center with Spectrum Dance (Seattle, WA). Rashaun Mitchell, a former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancer and a Trustee of the Merce Cunningham Trust, is coordinating many of these programs.

Since John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s deaths, friends have fondly continued to honor their legacy of warm hospitality (and Cage’s macrobiotic recipes) with their own occasional parties, and the Trust is promoting such activities during the Centennial.

On the evening of Cunningham’s 100th birthday, The Merce Cunningham Trust and the John Cage Trust are supporting former friends, collaborators, and those familiar with Cunningham in hosting dinner parties recalling evenings with Cunningham and his life partner and closest collaborator, John Cage.

The dinners will feature menus built around some of Cage’s favorite recipes. These are just some of a series of community-oriented events that will take place with partners such as the Ace Hotel, and in locales in Israel, where Cunningham was warmly received.