There has been much international dialogue concerning the future of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. We, the current students at the Merce Cunningham Studio, are interested in extending this discussion to include the future of our school and the preservation of Cunningham Technique.
We began our research by accessing online documents that were made public by the Cunningham Dance Foundation when they announced the Legacy Plan. From these sources we have determined that the fate of the Studio will be decided by the Merce Cunningham Trust. Over the past year, 25% of Cunningham Technique classes have been cut from the school schedule. We have been told that we may not have the opportunity to finish our professional training programs and earn certificates celebrating our years of study. This has given us strong reason to believe that the Studio will close after the Cunningham Dance Foundation closes. From discussions between students, we came to realize that there is something larger at stake then just the fate of our classes and that is the artistic legacy of Merce Cunningham.
We wrote this petition to articulate our dream of a Merce Cunningham Center that would continue our programs and preserve the full artistic legacy of Mr. Cunningham in the studio where he created over eighty works. As a group of students, we do not have the organizational capacity to fundraise. We hope this petition will show that there is overwhelming public support for a center and inspire the Trust to take immediate action to fundraise, organize, and create this important cultural institution. We would enthusiastically support the Trust in all efforts to realize these plans.
We respectfully petition the Merce Cunningham Trust to establish the Merce Cunningham Center as the premier center for the study of Cunningham Technique and Repertory. The Center would be located on the 11th floor of Westbeth encompassing the studios in which Merce Cunningham created his work and the rooms in which the company has rehearsed for over forty years. The Center would be an expansion of the current Merce Cunningham Studio and offer the following programs:
1. Open Program – A full schedule of daily Cunningham Technique classes in all levels.
2. International Program and Professional Training Program – The Center would continue to offer professional programs for dancers from all over the country and the world to come and study Cunningham Technique and Repertory.
3. Teacher Training Program – Workshops and an intensive year-long program would offer certification to teach Cunningham Technique.
4. Educational Outreach Program – The Center would continue to offer classes and repertory showings for public school children to learn about Merce Cunningham and his work.
5. Repertory Ensemble – A small group of dancers would be dedicated to investigating and restaging Cunningham Repertory.
6. Research Institute and Exhibition Gallery – The Center would serve as a central location for scholars to come and study the life and work of Merce Cunningham. Gallery space could be created to show exhibitions on loan from the Cunningham Archives at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
According to its Annual Filing for Charitable Organizations with the NYS Office of the Attorney General, Charities Bureau, on May 8, 2009, the activities of the Merce Cunningham Trust are “to promote education and artistic development in the field of modern dance through instruction and performance of works choreographed by Merce Cunningham.” We ask the Trust to act now to make preparations for the Merce Cunningham Center as a way to fulfill this important part of their mission.
Our Vision: The Merce Cunningham Center
We believe the Cunningham Technique is one of the most important contributions Merce Cunningham made to the world of modern dance. Learning the fundamentals and specifics of the technique is an ongoing process that takes years of daily practice with qualified and experienced teachers. The Merce Cunningham Studio, as an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Dance, is currently recognized as the premier school for engaging in this demanding study. The faculty at the studio is comprised of some of the most celebrated dancers from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and instructors personally trained by Merce in his teaching methodology. Students come from all over the world to study at the school and bring their knowledge and firsthand experience of Cunningham Technique back to their home countries. The studio space in Westbeth is a centerpiece of the training experience. The sheer size and expansive nature of the studio enable the dynamic use of space central to the technique. It is also an honor to study within the space that the company danced in for so many years. This historically invaluable institution needs to be continued so that future generations of dancers, choreographers, teachers, and community members can learn about and be transformed by Cunningham Technique.
Creating the Merce Cunningham Center would be an engaging way to re-envision the Studio to incorporate all aspects of Merce Cunningham’s legacy. Exhibitions on loan from the Cunningham Archives at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center could explore such topics as Merce Cunningham’s collaborations with visual artists or his groundbreaking use of various forms of technology. Books and research material about Merce Cunningham and his artistic collaborators could be available for students and visitors to access or purchase. Partnerships could be formed with major universities to sponsor academic residencies at the Center. Expanding the current teacher training programs and educational outreach programs would continue to ignite interest in Cunningham’s work beyond the range of the dance community and into a wider public sphere.
A Repertory Ensemble would be an essential part of the Merce Cunningham Center. The opportunity to learn and perform repertory is a strong incentive for highly talented students to enroll in the school and commit to the years of hard work it takes to achieve technical and artistic proficiency in the Cunningham Technique. Establishing a Repertory Ensemble is also necessary for the preservation of Cunningham’s work in its most authentic form. Such an ensemble would be the only group in the world comprised of dancers trained in the rigorous Cunningham training system regularly performing the repertory. Dance is an art form that survives best when passed from generation to generation via a direct line of contact with the creative source. Learning from video is a poor replacement for years of personal interaction with teachers and former company members. A Repertory Ensemble would be committed to learning Cunningham Technique and Repertory from the people closest to Merce Cunningham and to pass this legacy on to the next generation.
Merce Cunningham was quoted in the New York Times on June 11, 2009: Mr. Cunningham added that he can accept the company’s future closing. “So if it stops, then it stops,” he said. “I won’t be around. I’m not going to say yes or no.” Then he offered another possibility. “As far as I’m concerned,” he said, “if they close the present company down, they can start building something else.”
Its time to “start building something else.” The Merce Cunningham Center would be a fitting tribute to one of the greatest choreographers of all time. The Center would be the one place in the world welcoming all people to explore, experience, and celebrate the life and work of Merce Cunningham.
We, the undersigned, respectfully petition the Merce Cunningham Trust to establish the Merce Cunningham Center as the premier center for the study of the Technique and Repertory of Merce Cunningham.
We envision this Center as being an expansion of the Merce Cunningham Studio offering a full schedule of technique classes, professional training programs, teacher training, educational outreach, a repertory ensemble, exhibition gallery, and research institute. The Center would be located on the 11th floor of Westbeth encompassing the studios in which Merce Cunningham created over eighty works.
We ask the Trust to take the actions necessary to create this center in order to fulfill their important mission “to promote education and artistic development in the field of modern dance through instruction and performance of works choreographed by Merce Cunningham.”
Thank you for your time and consideration of our request.