John Cage first met Merce Cunningham in 1938 in a dance class at the Cornish School for the Arts; Cage was working as the class accompanist, and Cunningham was a student. They crossed paths again in New York in 1942 and Cage invited Cunningham, who was then a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, to work on a project. Their collaboration turned into a life-long creative and romantic partnership, and they staged over fifty dance works together before Cage’s death in 1992.
Inspired by his work with Cage, Cunningham left the Graham Company in 1944 to pursue his own choreographic aesthetic. Responding to the abstract expressionism of Graham-styled modern dance, Cunningham explored ways to separate movement from narrative, from music, from rote sequence –
he sought pure movement. Like Cage, Cunningham challenged the conventions of his field and he stood beside Cage at the forefront of the American avant garde movement.
Cunningham founded his own dance company in 1953 with Cage serving as the company’s music director, a position he held until his death. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) became a cornerstone of the ever-evolving world of modern dance, contributing a unique training technique and performance philosophy. The MCDC was formally disbanded in 2011, after a two-year farewell tour following Cunningham’s death.