How Much Do You Know About Merce Cunningham?

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

Merce Cunningham

1. What types of media did Merce experiment with in relation to dance?

a. Film

b. Music

c. Motion capture and dance software

d. All of the above

2. How many repertory pieces did Merce Cunningham make?

a. 73

b. 180

c. 303

d. 114

3. What unique choreographic technique was Merce known for?

a. Using randomness such as flipping a coin

b. Dancing in non-traditional spaces

c. Starting at the end of the piece

d. Meditating on the concept

4. How old did Merce live to be?

a. 90 years old

b. 35 years old

c. 77 years old

d. 101 years old

5. What was the Merce Cunningham Dance Company originally named?

a. Cunningham Dance Company

b. Merce Cunningham & Company

c. Cunningham Dance Theater

d. Merce Cunningham and Dance Company

6. Which award did Merce Cunningham not receive?

a. National Medal of Arts

b. MacArthur Fellowship

c. Presidential Medal of Freedom

d. Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award

7. Where have Merce Cunningham work's been performed?

a. Paris Opera Ballet

b. New York City Ballet

c. American Ballet Theatre

d. All of the above

8. What Pacific Northwest State was Merce born in?

a. Oregon

b. Washington

c. California

d. Idaho

9. What notable modern dancer did Merce train under?

a. Alvin Ailey

b. Paul Taylor

c. Martha Graham

d. Katherine Dunham

10. CNDC-Angers/Swinston is coming to Portland as a part of the 2019-2020 White Bird Dance Series. What is the first name of ‘Swinston’, who is the Artistic Director of France's National Center for Contemporary Dance/Angers and was a student of Cunningham himself?

a. Ben

b. Alex

c. Carl

d. Robert

Let's see how you did!!

1. D, All of the above! In the 70s and 80s Merce created dance with the purpose of being captured on film. As for music, him and his life partner John Cage played with the idea of music and dance existing independently from one another within the same performance. Finally, Merce used DanceForms software to explore movement possibilities and used motion-capture technology to create decor for four pieces. One of those pieces was actually BIPED, which is one of the two works CNDC Angers/Swinston is bringing to Portland.


2. B, Merce Cunningham made an astounding 180 repertory pieces.

3. A, Merce is known as the pioneer of using chance in choreography. He would flip coins, roll dice, or even consult the I-Ching to make is work.

4. A, Merce lived to be 90 years old, dying a few months after his birthday. This past April would have been his 100th birthday.

5. D, The company was originally named ‘Merce Cunningham and Dance Company’, a minor but effective change. The company closed its doors two-years after Merce’s death after touring as a tribute to him. All things Merce Cunningham are now handled by the Merce Cunningham Trust.

6. C, Cunningham did not win the Presidential Medal of Freedom, notable artists that did receive the Medal of Freedom were Martha Graham, Lucia Chase, George Balanchine, Lincoln Kirstein, Chita Rivera, and Alvin Ailey (posthumous). Cunningham has a long list of awards but the ones highlighted in his biography are the National Medal of Arts (1990), a MacArthur Fellowship (1985), Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award (2009), Japan’s Praemium Imperiale (2005), British Laurence Olivier Award (1985), and he was named Officier of the Legion d’Honneur in France (2004).

Merce Cunningham after being awarded his Praemium Imperiale medal by Prince Hitachi in 2005.

7. D, Of course Merce was celebrated and performed by all three of these major companies. His biography lists the following groups that have performed his work- ‘Paris Opera Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, White Oak Dance Project, the Lyon Opera Ballet, Ballett am Rhein, and London’s Rambert, to name a few.’

8. B, Merce Cunningham was born in Centralia, Washington on April 16, 1919.

9. C, Merce Cunningham trained under Martha Graham, who invited him to join the company after he first encountered her work at the Cornish School. He had a six-year tenure as a soloist for the Martha Graham Dance Company. Like many of Graham’s students he set out with the ideal to reject her teachings within his own company but ironically ended up both embracing and renouncing her technique.

Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham

10. D, Robert Swinston is the Artistic Director of CNDC-Angers/Swinston. Swinston was director of choreography at the Merce Cunningham Trust in 2012 and the Merce Cunningham Dance Foundation for the repertoire, pedagogy and educational programs from 2010 to 2011. He was appointed as artistic director of CNDC-Angers in 2013.

You can read about all of this and more in Merce Cunningham’s biography and on the Trust’s ‘About’ page.

1-3 Correct; Looks like you need to brush up on who Merce Cunningham was and what he did. What better way to do that than by seeing some of his most celebrated work live with us this coming season!

4-6 Correct; You know a fair amount about Merce Cunningham (or you're just really good at guessing). Props to you as this is far more than the average person walking down the street.

7-10 Correct; Wow! You must really love Merce Cunningham to know this much, very impressive.

White Bird is thrilled to be bringing such historic pieces such as BIPED and Beach Birds to Portland with CNDC-Angers/Swinston this November. You can purchase individual tickets for the show on August 16th.

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