Merce Cunningham 1919-2009

I am terribly sad to hear the passing of Merce Cunningham, who died this weekend at the age of 90. what a brilliant choreographer and dancer. He worked with the likes of Andy Warhol, Steve Reich, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, John Cage and oh  so many more Pop Art legends.

Cunningham was one of the first choreographers who utilised the new age of  digital technology, choreographing his pieces from computer, plotting out the steps and movements, so that the dancers would perform almost organic robotic like movements.

His dancers stayed with him for years, allowing the repertoires to be complete and thorough, almost as if it was an inherent part to the dancers’ souls.

I went to Paris one year to see the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform at the Theatre de Ville, he was not scheduled in the UK that year and I did not want a year to pass without the joy of his work. I can remember it was one of my favourite trips to the city, almost a pilgrimage to see his outstanding performers dance in the Cunningham technique.

After shows at the Barbican, Saddlers Wells and the South Bank, the final performance by Merce Cunningham for me was at the Tate Modern under the huge mirror with the glowing light of the sun at the far end of the Turbine Hall, part of the Unilever Exhibitions. Merce performed up on the balcony as his team  danced on the ground. The audience lay on the cold concrete of the power station floor looking up into the mirror. The performance was  choreographed upside down and back to front. Pure pure genius.  Merce in his late 80’s danced with a smooth energy. Remarkable work.

Merce Cunningham 1919 – 2009.