Merce Cunningham Technique – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Dance Theory Glossary

I. What is Merce Cunningham Technique?

Merce Cunningham Technique is a form of contemporary dance technique developed by the legendary American choreographer Merce Cunningham. It is a style of dance that focuses on the use of the body in space, emphasizing movement quality, dynamics, and spatial awareness. Cunningham believed in the idea of “pure movement,” where movement is not tied to emotion or narrative, but rather exists for its own sake. This technique is known for its use of chance procedures and its emphasis on the relationship between music and movement.

II. History and Background of Merce Cunningham Technique

Merce Cunningham was a pioneer in the world of modern dance, known for his innovative approach to choreography and his collaborations with artists such as John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg. He founded the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953, which became a leading force in the world of contemporary dance. Cunningham’s technique was developed over decades of experimentation and exploration, drawing on influences from ballet, modern dance, and Eastern movement practices.

III. Principles and Fundamentals of Merce Cunningham Technique

The Merce Cunningham Technique is based on a set of principles and fundamentals that guide the movement vocabulary and structure of the technique. These principles include a focus on alignment, clarity of movement, use of the back, and an emphasis on the relationship between the upper and lower body. The technique also incorporates elements of suspension, fall and recovery, and off-balance movement, creating a dynamic and fluid style of dance.

IV. Key Elements of Merce Cunningham Technique

There are several key elements that define the Merce Cunningham Technique. One of the most important elements is the use of the “center” as the source of movement, with a focus on maintaining a strong and stable core while allowing for freedom and fluidity in the limbs. Another key element is the use of “undulation,” a continuous flow of movement that creates a sense of continuity and connection throughout the body. The technique also emphasizes the use of space, with movement traveling in all directions and levels.

V. Training and Practice of Merce Cunningham Technique

Training in the Merce Cunningham Technique involves a rigorous and disciplined approach to movement, with a focus on developing strength, flexibility, and coordination. Dancers often begin their training with a series of exercises designed to build awareness of the body and its relationship to space. As dancers progress, they learn a repertoire of movement phrases and sequences that challenge their technical abilities and artistic expression. Practice of the technique involves a combination of structured exercises, improvisation, and performance opportunities.

VI. Influence and Legacy of Merce Cunningham Technique

The influence of the Merce Cunningham Technique can be seen in the work of countless choreographers and dancers around the world. Cunningham’s innovative approach to movement and his collaborations with artists from other disciplines have had a lasting impact on the field of contemporary dance. His technique continues to be taught and practiced in dance schools and companies worldwide, ensuring that his legacy lives on for future generations of dancers and artists.