Merce Cunningham (1919-2009)

Posted in 80 Faces, 2013.

Modern dance pioneer Merce Cunningham has touched ADF in significant ways throughout its history. From attending the earliest years of ADF as a young dancer in the Martha Graham Company to receiving the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1982, Merce Cunningham has been an important figure at ADF.


David Vaughan, longtime archivist for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, describes Mr. Cunningham’s early involvement with ADF:

Merce Cunningham

Merce Cunningham (far right) with Erick Hawkins and Martha Graham in “Punch and the Judy,” Bennington College, 1941
Photo: Arnold Eagle


“In the early years of the festival–in the summer of 1939–Merce was at the Bennington School with the Martha Graham Company, in which he had his first creative role in a Graham piece. Shortly after in 1942, Merce’s first independent choreography was performed on the stage above the dining hall at Bennington with Graham, [which was] an important involvement in the American Dance Festival as it was back then.”

In the video above, Mr. Vaughan discusses the period of the late 1950s and early 1960s when the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was invited to present their work, and the vital relationship ADF had with dance companies and artists in supporting their creative process.