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Innovation and Influence of Merce Cunningham

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The author of the paper tells that in 1953, Cunningham had his own company of 5 dancers, including himself. He preferred to maintain a small group that even in 1994, there were only 17 including the choreographer.   His fortunate dancer-trainees eventually went on to develop their own careers as dancer-choreographers and made names for themselves.   Some of these were Paul Taylor, Remy Charlip, Viola Farber, Margaret Jenkins, Douglas Dunn, Gus Solomons, Jr., Karole Armitage and Ulysses Dove (Greskovic, 1999).   The prominence these mentees of Cunningham gained was a reflection of his great influence in their dance philosophies.

Cunningham’ s dance innovations never ceased to amaze the audience.   Asked if he was out to shock people with his dances, he claimed he was not, but was out to bring poetry in their lives.   He brought a twist to ballet, which was so much part of the modern dance innovations but somehow put an edge to the classic dance.   He combined what he learned from ballet such as the pronounced use of the legs, with the strong emphasis on the upper body in modern dance methods.   Greskovic (1999) identifies one of Cunningham’ s technical advancement in relation to ballet’ s five positions of the feet that he referred to as the Five Positions of the Back – upright, curve, arch, twist, and tilt.

A meticulous artist, Cunningham did not stop at designing details of his choreography but also dabbled with the music that accompanied the dance.   The unconventional sound elements used may be disturbing to the audience simply because it is unfamiliar and therefore, uncomfortable.   Greskovic (1999) describes: Sounds came from nowhere predictable – sometimes electronic sound sources screeched and/or blared at high decibel levels, but it seems doubtful that the individuals put off by the works in which such sound effects occurred would find them much more agreeable had they some equally random, but more gently toned sonic base (p.


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