Bard News & Events

Press Release

The Fisher Center Presents the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, September 9–11

“The Legacy Tour” of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Includes Suite for Five, Antic Meet, and Sounddance

Mark Primoff
 Image Credit: Merce Cunningham. Photo Annie Leibovitz

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—This September, Bard College presents the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in performance as part of The Legacy Tour, the Company’s final, two-year world tour before it disbands, at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. The program includes three seminal works created by Merce Cunningham: Suite for Five (1956–1958), Antic Meet (1958), and Sounddance (1975). Jennifer Dunning in the New York Times writes, “Suite for Five is one of [Cunningham’s] most beautiful works, a complex, fluid distillation of time and space.” Clive Barnes, also writing for the New York Times, calls Antic Meet “[f]unny, touching, and mad.” And Sarah Kaufman in the Washington Post raves that Sounddance is “[a]n exhilarating rush—like bobbing in the ocean, being swept by wave after wave, getting sucked under and tumbled around from all directions.”


The Merce Cunningham Dance Company will present two evening performances on Friday, September 9, and Saturday, September 10, at 8 p.m.; and one matinée on Sunday, September 11, at 2 p.m. All performances will be held in the Sosnoff Theater of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $25, $35, $45, and $55. Please call the box office at 845-758-7900, e-mail, or go to for tickets and more information.




Suite for Five (1956–1958)

Choreography by Merce Cunningham

Music by John Cage, Music for Piano

Costumes by Robert Rauschenberg

Lighting by Beverly Emmons

Noted for its classicism and tranquility, Suite for Five adds a trio, a duet, and a quintet to two solos from Cunningham’s earlier Solo Suite in Space and Time. The solos are remarkable for the virtuosity of their slow, sustained movements, while ensemble sections demonstrate a serene, sculptural quality. Speaking of Cunningham’s choreography for Suite for Five, John Cage remarked that “the dancers are often alone or independent, even when several are on the stage at the same time. Out of this solitude, meetings take place between them, brief or extended.” The isolated sounds of Cage’s score – struck on the woodwork of the piano, or plucked on its strings—make for a calm, pellucid atmosphere in which the movements can be seen with perfect clarity. Rauschenberg designed the dancers’ bold-toned leotards.


Antic Meet (1958)

Choreography by Merce Cunningham

Music by John Cage, Concert for Piano and Orchestra

Décor by Robert Rauschenberg

Antic Meet captures the exuberant and collaborative spirit that existed between Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg for nearly 60 years. Rauschenberg referred to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as “his largest canvas,” and described his relationship with Cunningham as a “compulsive desire to make and share … All of us worked totally committed, shared every intense emotion and, I think, performed miracles, for love only.” Structured like a series of vaudeville scenes, Antic Meet consists of ten playful and comedic numbers. John Cage provided the musical accompaniment, using a version of Concert for Piano and Orchestra, and Rauschenberg’s witty costumes include fur coats, parachute dresses, and, famously, a chair strapped to Cunningham’s back. Prior to its recent revival for the Legacy Tour, Antic Meet was last performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1969.


The revival and preservation of Antic Meet is made possible in part through the generous support of Jeanne Donovan Fisher and the National Endowment for the Arts. The revival of Antic Meet is a co-commission of the University of Notre Dame and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.


Sounddance (1975)

Choreography by Merce Cunningham

Music by David Tudor, Toneburst

Décor by Mark Lancaster

In the fall of 1973, Cunningham spent nine weeks working with the Ballet of the Paris Opéra, for which he choreographed Un jour ou deux. When he returned to his own company, he “felt like doing something vigorous, fast, complex.” The piece he made, Sounddance, takes its title from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake: “In the buginning is the woid, in the muddle is the sound-dance and thereinofter you’re in the unbewised again, vund vulsyvolsy.” Dancers emerge one after the other from a tent-like structure, and remain onstage until they are swept back in, as though in a wind tunnel. In the words of Anna Kisselgoff, “dawn to dusk, even the entire cycle of mortality, is evoked by the furious agitation that begins with [the first dancer’s] eruption from a curtained structure and ends with the entire casts’ disappearance into the same draped folds.” Tudor’s powerful score provides a charged environment for Cunningham’s fast-paced choreography.



The Merce Cunningham Dance Company has had a profound impact on American art and the avant-garde since its founding in 1953. Guided by Merce Cunningham’s radical approach to space, time, and technology, the Company has forged a distinctive style, reflecting Cunningham’s technique and illuminating the near limitless possibility for human movement. For more than 50 years, MCDC’s collaborations with groundbreaking artists from all disciplines have redefined the way audiences experience the visual and performing arts. For more information, visit


The Cunningham Dance Foundation’s precedent-setting Legacy Plan delineates the future of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and ensures the preservation of Merce Cunningham’s artistic legacy. The multifaceted plan includes the celebratory two-year Legacy Tour, and supports career transition for the dancers, musicians, and staff who have invested their time and creative efforts into the realization of Cunningham’s vision. The plan also includes the creation of digital “Dance Capsules” that will bring his work to life for future generations. For further information, visit



Merce Cunningham (1919–2009) was a leader of the American avant-garde throughout his 70-year career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. Through much of his life, he was also one of the greatest American dancers. With an artistic career distinguished by constant innovation, Cunningham expanded the frontiers not only of dance, but also of contemporary visual and performing arts. His collaborations with artistic innovators from every creative discipline have yielded an unparalleled body of American dance, music, and visual art.


Of all his collaborations, Cunningham’s work with John Cage, his life partner from the 1940s until Cage’s death in 1992, had the greatest influence on his practice. Together, Cunningham and Cage proposed a number of radical innovations. The most famous and controversial of these concerned the relationship between dance and music, which they concluded may occur in the same time and space, but should be created independently of one another. The two also made extensive use of chance procedures, abandoning not only musical forms, but narrative and other conventional elements of dance composition—such as cause and effect, and climax and anticlimax. For Cunningham the subject of his dances was always dance itself.


Born in Centralia, Washington on April 16, 1919, Cunningham began his professional modern dance career at 20 with a six-year tenure as a soloist in the Martha Graham Dance Company. In 1944 he presented his first solo show and in 1953 formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company as a forum to explore his groundbreaking ideas. Over the course of his career, Cunningham choreographed more than 150 dances and over 800 “Events.” Dancers who trained with Cunningham and have gone on to form their own companies include Paul Taylor, Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Karole Armitage, Foofwa d’Imobilité, and Jonah Bokaer. 


Cunningham’s lifelong passion for exploration and innovation made him a leader in applying new technologies to the arts. He began investigating dance on film in the 1970s, and choreographed using the computer program DanceForms during the latter part of his career. He explored motion capture technology to create décor for BIPED (1999), and his interest in new media led to the creation of Mondays with Merce. This webcast series provides a never-before-seen look at the company and Cunningham’s teaching technique with video of advanced technique class, company rehearsal, archival footage, and interviews with current and former company members, choreographers, and collaborators.


An active choreographer and mentor to the arts world until his death at the age of 90, Cunningham earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts. Among his many awards are the National Medal of Arts (1990) and the MacArthur Fellowship (1985). He also received the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award in 2009, Japan’s Praemium Imperiale in 2005, and the British Laurence Olivier Award in 1985, and he was named Officier of the Legion d’Honneur in France in 2004. Cunningham’s life and artistic vision have been the subject of four books and three major exhibitions, and his works have been presented by groups including the Ballet of the Paris Opéra, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, White Oak Dance Project, and London’s Rambert Dance Company.


Cunningham died in his New York City home on July 26, 2009. Always forward-thinking, he developed the precedent-setting Legacy Plan prior to his death, to guide his Company and ensure the preservation of his artistic legacy.



To download high-resolution photographs go to:

back to top

This event was last updated on 10-17-2011