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Press ReleasesWalker Art Center Enters a New Phase in its Longtime Relationship with Choreographer Merce Cunningham

Ten-day Celebration Features First Exhibition of Newly-acquired Costumes, Set Pieces, and Painted Drops from Merce Cunningham Dance Company




Minneapolis, MN, August 16, 2011— In March 2011, the Walker Art Center announced the single largest visual arts acquisition in its history: more than 150 artist-made sets, props, costumes, and painted drops created for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC). The acquisition, with works by Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and other leading visual artists, was a key moment in a relationship between the Walker and Cunningham that has spanned more than four decades, stretching back to 1963 when the Walker first presented the acclaimed choreographer’s work. This fall, the Walker marks the beginning of a new era in its relationship with Cunningham, presenting the ten-day celebration “The Next Stage: Merce Cunningham at the Walker Art Center”. The celebration, running from October 28 to November 6, 2011, will feature dance works, talks, and workshops; the first in a series of research exhibitions featuring the items from the acquisition; and some of the MCDC’s final performances before the company disbands in December.

“The Walker events will demonstrate the multifaceted nature of Cunningham’s lasting contributions to the spheres of movement, choreography, and the visual arts,” said Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander. “His unparalleled openness to the creative expressions of so many leading artists of his generation was remarkable. Many like Robert Rauschenberg gained a new platform through Cunningham’s efforts, reimagining and reinventing their work for the stage.”

Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) was a leader of the American avant-garde throughout his seventy year career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. 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. In 1953, he 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.

The Walker has supported Cunningham’s work for over 45 years through nine residencies, three commissions, an exhibition, and some 17 separate engagements, including three world premieres and two U.S. premieres. MCDC’s performances at the Walker this fall are part of the company’s planned two-year farewell Legacy Tour. The company will disband at the end of December 2011, when the tour concludes.

A full listing of events in “The Next Stage: Merce Cunningham at the Walker Art Center” follows.


In a career spanning more than 70 years, Cunningham not only redefined dance, but also the role of the visual arts within its expanding parameters. He developed collaborative relationships based on free-thinking experimentation and exchange with numerous leading visual artists. Over many decades, artists tested their capacity to work on a grand scale amidst moving performers and explored the possibility of their art to amplify the dances on stage. Artists such as Rauschenberg and Ernesto Neto were attracted to the potential of working in the live sphere of dance. Cunningham gave them a free hand, encouraging their ideas to blossom independently of his choreographic intentions. The results of this approach will be explored in successive research exhibitions called “Dance Works.” Featuring objects from the Walker’s newly-acquired collection from the MCDC, as well as other objects already in the Walker collection, these exhibitions reframe our understanding of Cunningham’s groundbreaking collaborators.

The Walker will present “Dance Works” exhibitions over the next three years, each exploring Cunningham’s collaborations with a different visual artist. The initiative will culminate in 2015 with a large-scale exhibition, symposium, and catalogue.

Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg
November 3, 2011—August 5, 2012
Dance Works I explores Cunningham’s work with Robert Rauschenberg, widely considered one of the most innovative visual artists of the 20th century. Cunningham and Rauschenberg first collaborated in 1952 when the two were students at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Rauschenberg was resident designer for the MCDC from 1954 to 1964, during which time he and Cunningham worked together on ten dances. Rauschenberg returned in later years to collaborate with Cunningham on several additional works. The exhibition features enormous curtains painted by Rauschenberg framing other rarely seen works he made for Cunningham’s dances, including large-scale sculptural objects that lend new perspective to Rauschenberg’s famous “Combines” of the 1950s. A workspace in the Medtronic Gallery allows visitors to experience first-hand the ongoing conservation, registration, and research activities with the collection the Walker acquired from the MCDC this year.
Curator: Darsie Alexander

Dance Works II: Merce Cunningham/Ernesto Neto
December 15, 2011—July 1, 2012
Ernesto Neto is a leading figure in Brazil’s contemporary art scene, known for large-scale, sculptural abstractions that often hang from the ceiling and are influenced by the human body and other living organisms. For Cunningham’s Views on Stage, which premiered in Edinburgh in 2004, Neto created a massive installation of globular sacs suspended above the dancers on stage; made of translucent white nylon, its organic forms were intended as a kind of blank canvas to be illuminated by colored lights. Visitors to the exhibition can move beneath and around the installation in the Perlman Gallery, whose dramatically high ceilings approximate the fly space of a theater stage.
Curator: Siri Engberg

The acquisition and exhibition of works from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company archive is made possible by generous support from Jay F. Ecklund, the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation, Agnes Gund, Russell Cowles and Josine Peters, the Hayes Fund of HRK Foundation, Dorothy Lichtenstein, the MAHADH Fund of HRK Foundation, Linda and Lawrence Perlman, Goodale Family Foundation, Marion Stroud Swingle, David Teiger, Kathleen Fluegel, Barbara G. Pine, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2011. Media partner Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.


Cédric Andrieux
Friday – Saturday, October 28 – 29
$16 ($12 Walker members)
Cédric Andrieux’s eight years with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company are a highlight of this
poetic, autobiographical performance. The veteran dancer offers a behind-the-scenes chronicle of his career, integrating spoken English with dance excerpts by Cunningham and other legendary choreographers.

Support provided by Producers’ Council members Sage and John Cowles.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company
Legacy Tour
Antic Meet, RainForest, and Pond Way
Friday – Sunday, November 4 – 6
Friday – Saturday, 8pm, $45 ($40 Walker members)
Sunday, 2 and 7pm, $40 ($35 Walker members)
Showcasing three distinct eras of Cunningham’s career, this program features some of the choreographer’s premier collaborations with leading 20th-century visual artists. Robert Rauschenberg created set pieces and props for the absurdist romp Antic Meet (1958); Andy Warhol’s floating Mylar pillows become part of the choreography in RainForest (1968); and the quietly majestic Pond Way (1998) plays out against Roy Lichtenstein’s stunning pointillistic backdrop. The live scores highlight the work of additional collaborators, including John Cage, David Tudor, and Brian Eno.

Gallery Talk

Darsie Alexander and Trevor Carlson
Thursday, November 3, 6 pm, Free
Medtronic Gallery

Walker chief curator Darsie Alexander and Trevor Carlson, executive director of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, will discuss the Walker’s history with Merce Cunningham and explore the next stage of the Walker’s relationship with the MCDC.

Workshop Collaborations

Talking Dance: Valda Setterfield
Sunday, Oct 30, 5:30 pm, $5
Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts
528 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55402
Tickets 612-206-3600 thecowlescenter.org

Valda Setterfield is a New York based actor/dancer. She danced with Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1965-75 and is a founding member of the Pick Up Performance Company. She received two New York Dance and Performance Awards (Bessie), the most recent one for outstanding achievement. She played Marcel Duchamp in Bessie/Obie award winning The Mysteries & What’s So Funny? and toured with Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project. She has worked with JoAnne Akalaitis, Woody Allen, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Caryl Churchill, Graciela Daniele, Richard Foreman, Maria Irene Fornes, Carmen de Lavallade, Brian de Palma, Ain Gordon, David Gordon, Ivo van Hove, Don Mischer, Marie Rambert, Gus Solomons Jr., Jeanine Tesori, James Waring, Robert Wilson, and Mark Wing- Davey, among others.

The Gertrude Lippincott Talking Dance Series is made possible by generous support from Judith Brin Ingber.

Master Class with Valda Setterfield
Monday, Oct 31, 10 am, $5
The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts (additional information above)

Setterfield will teach a class investigating Merce Cunningham’s back warm up exercises. She began studying with Cunningham in 1958. At that time Merce taught all the classes. The principles of the exercises were clear and unchanging but the variables of tempi, sequence, relationship of arms, and use of space were limitless.

Events with Valda Setterfield are copresented by Link Vostok International East-West Arts Exchange, the Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, and the Walker Art Center.

Merce Cunningham, 2011

Photo: Richard Rutledge