Merce Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington on April 16, 1919. He played a part in the invention and application of new techniques in modern dance and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. He expanded the frontiers of dance, visual, and performing arts. Throughout his life, Cunningham was one of the greatest American dancers. His collaborations with artistic innovators from every creative perspective have changed the body of American dance, music, and visual art.
Clifford D. Cunningham, Merce’s father, was a lawyer. Cunningham remembered many years later asking his father why he chose to work in a small town and his father replied that he wanted to practice all kinds of law. His father is best remembered in the trial of members of the radical labor union, the Industrial Workers of the World, and their participation in Centralia Massacre. Cunningham was special prosecutor in the trial but was a baby during this time. His mother, Mayme Joach Cunningham, left Centralia often to travel the world. Cunningham grew up in Centralia, grew up within that small community, and increasingly grew and shone from a small stage to a much larger one.
Cunningham’s introduction into the world of dance came through a neighbor and church member, Maude Barrett. Barrett was a retired circus performer, teaching at Barrett’s School of Dance in Centralia, and she became young Merce’s first dance teacher. Cunningham began his training in tap dancing. Barrett paired the teenaged Merce with her daughter, Marjorie Barrett, for performances and the pair soon added ballroom dancing to their routine. Cunningham later credited Maude Barrett with fundamentally shaping his conception of dance.
He attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., for a year. In 1937, he began studying in the fields of modern dance and music at the Cornish School, in Seattle. This is where Composer John Cage and Cunningham first met. Cunningham's... [continues]
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