Response to the Petition

Today we received this letter from the Merce Cunningham Trust, it is their response to our petiton. If you feel like responding to this letter please send your comments to:

October 21, 2010

We very much appreciate the eloquently articulated petition written by Christiana Axelsen and signed by so many people committed to the furtherance of Merce Cunningham’s legacy.  As trustees of the Merce Cunningham Trust, we welcome the thoughts and suggestions of all who have been touched by his genius as we plan for the day, following the closure of the Cunningham Dance Foundation in the Summer of 2012, when the Trust moves from a concept reflected only in Merce’s mind and on paper to a fully active and dynamic entity.  This is both a formative and transitional period, and we have been and will continue to work closely with CDF as CDF itself diligently works to successfully complete its Legacy Plan.  We also look forward to maintaining a dialogue with the entire Cunningham community and to keeping everyone informed of the decisions we make that will shape the future of the Trust and impact the Cunningham world.

As trustees, we are not only bound by the terms of the legal document by which Cunningham created his Trust, but morally obligated to carry out, to the best of our abilities, the intentions he made clear upon its formation. The purpose of the Trust is clearly stated in the Trust Declaration: To preserve, enhance, and maintain the integrity of Merce Cunningham’s dances and other artistic works and to make such works publicly available.  To achieve this, the Declaration provides that the trustees shall control the licensing of Merce’s choreography and may, at its discretion, maintain a “Repertory Understudy Group” that will “…consist of professional dancers selected by the [trustees] to preserve, enhance and maintain the integrity of [Merce’s works] and to make such works available for the benefit of the public through the thorough study and continued teaching of such works to students and scholars in the field of dance.”

When Merce established the Trust he saw it as organizationally quite distinct from the Cunningham Dance Foundation.  As many of you well know, year in and year out, CDF has had to struggle to raise the funds required to support the Dance Company and the Studio.  Success was never assured.  Merce recognized that, with his departure, fundraising would become even more difficult, if not impossible. By establishing a separate Trust that would be unencumbered by the heavy obligations CDF has faced, and by funding it with the bulk of his estate, Merce felt confident that the Trust would be able, on its own, to generate enough income to operate in perpetuity.  Merce also was influenced by the great success of the John Cage Trust, which he served as President of its Board of Trustees from its formation until his death.  Without fundraising, and without lavish start-up funds, the John Cage Trust has been able to nurture and support countless new and creative ways of furthering Cage’s legacy brought to it by others, most of which were unforeseeable at the time of its creation.

In this light, and given the ample yet finite resources of the Merce Cunningham Trust, the challenge for the Trust is to determine which of the many meritorious possibilities that will nurture Cunningham’s legacy are feasible and thus should be given priority.  Certainly, a Merce Cunningham Center, located at Westbeth and operated by the Trust, that not only continued the current programs of the Studio but expanded them to include “a full schedule of technique classes, professional training programs, teacher training, educational outreach, a repertory ensemble, exhibition gallery, and research institute” is appealing.  Unfortunately, it is clear that the Trust does not have the financial wherewithal to undertake such an expansive endeavor.  And, further, given Merce’s expectations with respect to licensing and the maintenance of a repertory ensemble, those activities must be given the highest priority. [1]

At the same time, we also completely understand that if those activities are to continue over the long-term, Cunningham technique must continue to be taught.

With this aim in mind, we have been exploring whether an arrangement can be entered into with one or more other institutions that would preserve the Westbeth Studio in its current form.  To date, the prospects for that do not look especially promising, but there are other possibilities for affiliations to be explored.  It has also been suggested that a new organization might be formed, distinct from the Trust, with the express purpose of funding and operating a school in the Westbeth Studio.  Although the Trust does not have the financial resources to underwrite such an organization, we would welcome such an effort by others.  In any case, rest assured that Cunningham technique will continue to be taught.

As Ms. Axelsen writes, using Merce’s own words, it’s time to start building something else.  We could not agree more.  We are determined to build something new that will honor Merce’s legacy both by managing his Trust in compliance with his specifically stated wishes and by making the most creative use of the resources left in our care.



Laura Kuhn
Patricia Lent
Allan Sperling
Robert Swinston

[1] The Trust is already actively pursuing the licensing of Cunningham works jointly with CDF.  Patricia Lent is serving as Director of Licensing for both the Trust and CDF with the financial support of the Trust.  In the past year alone, over a dozen staging projects have been undertaken, making it possible for former and current members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company to teach and coach masterworks from the repertory, including Septet, Cross Currents, Summerspace, RainForest, Scramble, and Landrover.


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3 Responses to Response to the Petition

  1. Joanna Bull says:

    It’s encouraging to learn that the trustees of the Merce Cunningham Trust have looked favorably on the recent petition asking their support in maintaining a school at the Westbeth Studio. I have every confidence that with skillfully directed efforts, the funding for this critically important part of Merce’s legacy will be found.

    Merce Cunningham was one of a handful of sublimely great artists of the Twentieth Century. I trust that all the right steps will be taken to preserve his work–which can most remain the vital entity that it is, by way of direct teaching and dissemination of his vast understanding of life and motion, of the ephemeral and eternal. I do not exaggerate.

    Joanna Bull
    Gilda’s Club Worldwide

  2. zuleyha cubuk says:

    I support your studies. There musn’t be closed the art schools in contemporary countries. I agree with your protests from my heart.

  3. Florence Lambert says:

    We wish you peace, love and glory over the next seven generations !…

    It seems very important to keep the technique with strong definitions….
    For, to me, Cunningham technique will become very soon the Bach of the dance vocabulary, “classical” in a sense that has nothing to do with late 19th century repertoire…

    And all the ballet dancers in the world will thank you from freeing them of Petipa !!!!

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