Famed Dancer and Choreographer Merce Cunningham Dies at 90


Way Station, (2001). Cedric Andrieux, Derry Swan. Photo by Tony Dougherty.

Earlier today the New York Times announced that modern dance master Merce Cunningham had died Sunday night at the age of 90. While his formal obituary isn’t up yet, this paragraph describing the famous choreographer in his later years on Arts Beat made us smile.

Until 1989, when he reached the age of 70, he appeared in every single performance given by his company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company; in 1999, at 80, though frail and holding onto a barre, he danced a duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov at the New York State Theater. And in 2009, even after observing his 90th birthday with the world premiere of the 90-minute “Nearly Ninety,” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music he went on choreographing for his dancers, telling people as they went to say farewell to him that he was still creating dances in his head.

He also never stopped innovating. In 1993 Cunningham made “CRWDSPCR” using the computer program Danceforms to map out the choreography. His 2006 piece “eyeSpace” that incorporated iPods and encouraged the audience to use the “shuffle” mode — thus emphasizing his longheld belief that music are separate, co-existing entities.

Cunningham worked with Jerome Robbins and Paul Taylor (and with/against the monster-sized influence of Martha Graham and George Balanchine) to create the New York School of Dance. He survived his collaborator and life partner John Cage by more than 15 years.

Earlier this summer, the Times published an article about Cunningham’s plans for his eponymous company after his death; they will embark on a two-year world tour and then shut down. As he explained at the time, “It’s really a concern about how do you preserve the elements of an art which is really evanescent, which is really like water. It can disappear. This is a way of keeping it — at least with our experience here — of keeping it alive.”

The Cunningham Dance Foundation and Merce Cunningham Dance Company will receive visitors in the Merce Cunningham Studio from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers or acknowledgments, it is requested that contributions be made to the Legacy Plan for the preservation of Merce’s work.

Videos of select dances below.

Changing Steps



The Coast Zone

Beach Birds

Mondays with Merce