Merce Cunningham is a choreographer born April 16, 1919, Centralia (Washington, United States). He was a long-term collaborator with and romantic partner of John Cage.
Cunningham received his first formal dance and theater training at the Cornish College of the Arts where he met John Cage, who was a piano accompanist for dance classes. Later he moved to New York and studied at the American School of Ballet. From 1939 to 1945 he was a soloist in Martha Graham's dance company, choreographing Paul Bowles' light opera The Wind Remains in 1943. He presented his first New York solo concert with John Cage in April 1944 and founded the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in the summer of 1953 with its first performances at Black Mountain College.
Merce (as he is often simply called) inspired by Einstein's words "there are no fixed points in space," developed a method of creating known as "Chance Operations," which he refined in close collaboration with Cage, his life partner. Influenced by zen and Dadaism, Merce would create a number of dance phrases and use methods such as dice, cards, or coins to determine order, number of repetitions, direction and spatial relation. Often times he would also invite a musician to create a score and an artist to create a visual environment while he created the movement. Each would work separately and would unite the elements for the first time on stage before an audience. Although considered an abrogation of artistic responsibility by some, Merce is thrilled by a process that arrives at works that could never have been created through traditional collaboration. This does not mean, however, that Merce holds every piece created in this fashion is a masterpiece. Those dances that do not "work" are quickly dropped from repertory, while those that do are celebrated as serendipitous discoveries. In this fashion chance operations are similar to improvisation, used as a tool of creation by many artists.
Although well into his eighties and no longer able to dance, Cunningham continues to choreograph with the aid of computer software, working with musical groups including Sigur Rós and Radiohead to create soundtracks for his projects.
Merce was on the development team for the dance software originally called Lifeforms now called Danceforms, the software allows the user to choreograph on a computer.
Cunningham's codified technique for training the body in movement, emphasises strength and agility. His choreography notoriously demands of his dancers difficult, nearly impossible physical feats of athleticism.