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Merce at 100: global celebrations of Cunningham’s centenary

Posted on April 16, 2018

Merce in Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three 1952 Photograph Gerda Peterich e1523894037216

The Merce Cunningham Trust has announced a global centennial celebration of the choreographer’s legacy, beginning this autumn. It will include Night of 100 Solos, in which 100 dancers will perform in New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris, plus film screenings, education initiatives and new works responding to Cunningham’s work. More than 60 companies are expected to participate, with The Royal Ballet among those performing Cunningham choreography for the first time.

“Merce liked saying he didn’t want to celebrate his birthday and yet he always enjoyed when we threw parties for him,” said Trevor Carlson, former executive director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. “My goal as centennial producer is to cull from the joys and knowledge gained from my past experience in producing the activities of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Archives, School and Foundation, and to use them in a rich and varied celebration that bolsters the future plans of the Trust.”

Merce Cunningham. Photograph: Mark Seliger

Before Cunningham’s death in 2009, he and his advisors developed a plan to ensure the preservation of his legacy. His company disbanded after a farewell tour, while the Merce Cunningham Trust works to make his work available to later generations, both through preserving records, props and other materials, providing stagers with necessary resources, supporting audience development and training dancers in Cunningham technique. It licenses Cunningham dances to leading companies and educational institutions worldwide.

Announced on April 16, 2018, which would have been Cunningham’s 99th birthday, the celebration will be launched in autumn 2018 and continue throughout 2019. Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event draws on the tradition of Cunningham Event performances, which combined excerpts from existing dances with new music and designs.

This will be the largest Cunningham Event ever created, with 100 dancers performing at Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles, the Barbican Centre, London and the Opéra Comique in Paris. On each of these four stages, dancers will perform a unique collection of 100 solos. Each city’s 75-minute Event will be tailor-made by former Cunningham dancers, working with a team of Cunningham alumni. There are plans to livestream the Event.

There will be many more performances. As part of the celebration, the Trust is offering companies the chance to perform Cunningham dances free of licensing fees during this 100th birthday programme. Participating organisations will include The Royal Ballet, Rambert, Dance Umbrella, the Paris Opéra Ballet, Ballet am Rhein, Ballet West, CCN – Ballet de Lorraine, Chaillot Theatre national de la dance, Compagnie CNDC d’Angers/Robert Swinston, Festival d’Automne à Paris, Harkness Dance Festival at the 92nd Street Y, Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project with with SFMOMA’s Open Space and ODC Theater, Jacob’s Pillow, The Joyce Theater, La Villette, Le Centre national de la dance, Lyon Opera Ballet, Montpellier Danse, the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron, New York City Center, NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, R.B. Jérôme Bel, Royal Ballet Flanders, Spectrum Dance Theater, Stephen Petronio Company, Sydney Dance Company, Theatre de la Ville, Theatre du Châtelet, The Washington Ballet and more.

There will also be a series of workshops and performances called “In Conversation with Merce”, with new works informed by Cunningham principles. Events will be organised by Bridge Project with SFMOMA’s Open Space and ODC Theater in San Francisco, the National Center for Choreography at the University of Akron, the Tonya Lockyer and Velocity Dance Center with Spectrum in Seattle. Film archives across the world will be showcasing Cunningham film material, while Centennial partners will offer workshops in Cunningham’s methods.

There will be other celebrations. On the evening of Cunningham’s 100th birthday, the The Merce Cunningham Trust and the John Cage Trust are supporting former friends and collaborators in hosting dinner parties recalling evenings with Cunningham and his life partner, composer John Cage. The dinners will feature menus built around some of Cage’s favourite macrobiotic recipes.

For more information, visit


Picture, top: Merce Cunningham in Sixteen Dances for Soloist and Company of Three (1952). Photograph: Gerda Peterich

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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