Merce Cunningham

July 26 2009 Died
Merce Cunningham was the subject of a celebratory week during the 2009 season honoring his extraordinary life, and both ended poignantly on the same day, July 26. Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington, in 1919, and he had performed with Martha Graham for a decade before he was first seen at the Pillow in 1955 on a shared program with ballet stars Alicia Alonso and Erik Bruhn, and the Spanish dancer Mariquita. John Cage and David Tudor provided the piano accompaniment, and the company included Viola Farber, Remy Charlip, and Carolyn Brown. The following year, the Pillow commissioned a new work from Cunningham, Nocturnes, with décor and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg. Ted Shawn was reportedly displeased with the results, saying that he had requested a light work, to which Cunningham replied, "Well, it's all in white." These two consecutive Pillow engagements were an important coup for the company. In Carolyn Brown's memoir, Chance and Circumstance, she writes, "In 1956, there were eleven performances, six of them—thanks to Ted Shawn—at Jacob's Pillow, and none in New York." It would be almost 30 years before the company appeared again at the Pillow, but there have been nine Pillow engagements since then, including a Pillow-sponsored MASS MoCA series. Some of these seasons have included new works: MinEvent in 1997 and a work-in-progress in 1998, as well as a commissioned work, Carousal, in 1987. In addition, Cunningham made a special trip for a 2002 PillowTalk to discuss his book of drawings, Other Animals, after which Mike Van Sleen photographed him sketching at the Fire Pond. Along with David Vaughan and filmmaker Elliot Caplan, he conducted a special half-day Cunningham Symposium in 1993, which was the centerpiece of a Documentation and Preservation Conference. All of the Cunningham activities since 1984 have been documented on video, encompassing more than seventy titles in the Jacob's Pillow Archives. An interview with Merce Cunningham is included in the 2012 documentary Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob's Pillow. He was the recipient of the third annual Jacob's Pillow Dance Award in 2009, and the Pillow celebrated his 90th birthday with two Cunningham-related PillowTalks and a season-long exhibition focusing on his collaborations with visual artists. The company's opening night Pillow performance was streamed to Cunningham in his Manhattan home, where he was able to view it on his laptop for a final look at his dancers in action.
Pillow Significance
2009 Jacob's Pillow Dance Award recipient
Related Productions
Banjo (dancer)
Fabrications (dancer)
Fabrications (dancer)
Fabrications (dancer)
Nocturnes (dancer)
Pictures (dancer)
Septet (dancer)
Suite for Five (dancer)
Two Step (dancer)
Related Works
Banjo (choreographer)
Carousal (choreographer)
CRWDSPCR (choreographer)
Excerpts (choreographer)
eyeSpace (choreographer)
Fabrications (choreographer)
How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run (choreographer)
Inlets 2 (choreographer)
Minevent (choreographer)
Nocturnes (choreographer)
Patterns in Space (choreographer)
Pictures (choreographer)
Points in Space (choreographer)
Quartet (choreographer)
Rondo (choreographer)
Septet (choreographer)
Signals (choreographer)
Sounddance (choreographer)
Suite for Five (choreographer)