Final Farewell

Merce Cunningham’s dance company returns to its roots


Dance master: Cunningham directs Victoria Finlayson in “Fabrications” in 1987.

Dance master: Cunningham directs Victoria Finlayson in “Fabrications” in 1987.
©Owen Franken/CORBIS

In the early 1950s, dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Two years after his death in 2009, the company has embarked on an international Legacy Tour to celebrate his vision one last time. In February, the company came to Durham for two shows at the Durham Performing Arts Center, a residency on campus, and a master class held in the Ark on East Campus. The visit was presented by Duke Performances.

The shows featured works from three different decades: “Sounddance” (1975), “Duets” (1980), and “Biped” (1999). As part of the Duke residency, the company performed and discussed Cunningham’s iconic piece “Suite for Five,” featuring music by John Cage and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg. The campus event, which was open to the public and to local school groups, included a behind-the-scenes introduction to Cunningham’s work by the company’s archivist, director of choreography, and executive director.

The international Legacy Tour features seminal works from throughout Cunningham’s career and highlights the collabora-tions with artistic innovators such Cage, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Radiohead that characterized Cunningham’s creative life. The tour culminates in a final performance this coming New Year’s Eve in New York, after which the company will disband.

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