The archives of the Merce Cunningham Trust were recently featured in the literary journal n+1. Cunningham, who died in 2009, was one of the most prominent choreographers and dancers of the 20th century. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company and their archivist David Vaughan faced some interesting challenges in preserving Cunningham’s work. Cunningham’s style kept people guessing. He would try rolling a dice to determine which direction dancers would move their heads or limbs, or map movements giving only sparing instructions to dancers. Cunningham rarely explained or interpreted his work, not even to the dancers with whom he developed the pieces. And, although many dances were documented through photography and film, Cunningham did not make any authoritative choreographic scores.
After Cunningham turned 90 the foundation announced that the Merce Cunningham Trust would establish a “Living Legacy Plan” which included the creation of “Dance Capsules” online, where the trust would have overviews, music from the performance, videos, and any other information available about the performance reported directly from those involved. Interested parties are able to license the “Dance Capsules” to perform with the goal that performances be as close to the intention of the artist as possible. It’s an interesting model for non-profit archives because of the possibility to attract funds while building a legacy around the work. I also think calling these packages “Capsules” is a clever idea.
The archives live at the New York Public Library and The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The NYPL finding aid can be viewed here. Images by Hazel Larsen Archer from the archives at NYPL were taken at Black Mountain College.