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Portrait in a Minute (24 of 25)
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Guest presenter Tony Thomas II, dancer and choreographer, discusses Merce Cunningham.

One of the great avant-garde figures of modern dance, Merce Cunningham was a protégé of Martha Graham and performed with her company from 1939 to 1945. He then began his lifelong partnership with composer John Cage, merging his abstract choreography with Cage’s austere modernism to produce works of unstructured randomness. Cunningham often only told his dancers about the sequence of the dances they were to perform just before they went onstage: dance, he believed, was as complex and as random as life itself.

In 1953 he formed his own company, where he showcased abstract dance focused on pure movement. Although he created nearly 200 works, Cunningham always recognized the ephemeral nature of dance: “You have to love dance to stick to it. It gives you nothing back . . . but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.”

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