Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received free admission to write an open and honest feature about Merce Cunningham’s Centennial Celebration at The Guggenheim.

The Centennial celebrations mark the hundredth year since the birth of Merce Cunningham; and they include performances, presentations and discussions about his work. Although the Merce Cunningham Dance Company finished its farewell legacy tour in 2011, the non-profit Merce Cunningham Trust continues to license his work. The Centennial Celebration at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum features Cunningham’s choreography and a panel discussion by former company members – as well as a special staging of Night of 100 Solos, which was set on ‘new’ dancers who had never been a part of Cunningham’s dance company.

“Our mission is to carry Merce Cunningham’s legacy into the future.”

– Merce Cunningham Trust
Choreography by Merce Cunningham, © Merce Cunningham Trust
Photo credit: Robert Altman/Works & Process at the Guggenheim

Guggenheim Works & Process 2019

The Cunningham Centennial celebration at the Guggenheim in NYC is a part of the ‘Works & Process’ performing arts series. The program began in 1984 so that locals could “see, hear, and meet acclaimed artists in an intimate setting unlike any other.” In addition to experiencing the artists’ work, the audience members gain insight into the creative process. The Guggenheim Works & Process events take place in the intimate Peter B. Lewis Theater, which has just 285 seats and was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Choreography by Merce Cunningham, © Merce Cunningham Trust
Photo credit: Robert Altman/Works & Process at the Guggenheim

Merce Cunningham Centennial Celebration Review

What better way to celebrate Merce Cunningham than to dive into his ground breaking dance works and his artistic process? Because the more you know about how Cunningham devised choreography, the more fascinating his work becomes. Dylan Crossman, a former member of Merce Cunningham Dance Company, curates the engaging, informal evening – beginning with a special performance of Night of 100 Solos.

Dancer: Erin Dowd
Choreography by Merce Cunningham, © Merce Cunningham Trust
Photo credit: Robert Altman/Works & Process at the Guggenheim

Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event

Dancers from the Los Angeles and New York casts of Night of 100 Solos participate in this Centennial event, specifically staged in The Guggenheim’s Peter B. Lewis Theater. Under the direction of Dylan Crossman and Andrea Weber, the dancers take advantage of aisles and small landings, in addition to the proscenium stage.

The performers dart out in solid colored garments by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung, the rich hues of their costumes similar to the variegated tones in an American Apparel store. Some solo entrances are brash, while others are quiet.

Dancer: Daniel McCusker
Choreography by Merce Cunningham, © Merce Cunningham Trust
Photo credit: Robert Altman/Works & Process at the Guggenheim

Audience members participate by choosing where to look. With so many different pieces of choreography occurring simultaneously, it’s impossible to take the whole performance space in at once.

Luckily, many solos repeat multiple times, and viewers are reminded to watch other performers, when the dancers’ movements and focus happen to reference each other.

The dancers carve their bodies into magnificent shapes and pose in extreme balances. But in signature Cunningham-style, they pull off the athletic moves with incredible control sans bravado.

Dancers: Eleanor Hullihan and Savannah Spratt
Choreography by Merce Cunningham, © Merce Cunningham Trust
Photo credit: Robert Altman/Works & Process at the Guggenheim

Cunningham Duets & Panel Discussion

A series of duets follows, intertwined with brief discussions facilitated by Andrea Weber with panel members Kimberly Bartosik and Gus Solomans Jr. Then Dylan Crossman and former company member Jamie Stott join the panel after they perform excerpts from Cunningham’s large repertory, including Signals (1970), Squaregame (1976), eyeSpace (2007) and Nearly Ninety (2009).

The former company members talk about the evolution of Cunningham’s creative process, which incorporated a computer program in later years; and they casually categorize the duets that Cunningham choreographed: romantic duets, duets danced in synchrony and duets composed of solos that occur at the same time with little to no interpersonal interaction.

Panelists: Andrea Weber, Kimberly Bartosik, Gus Solomons Jr., Jamie Scott, and Dylan Crossman
Photo credit: Robert Altman/Works & Process at the Guggenheim

When the panel discusses performing Cunningham’s work, it’s clear they haven’t forgotten the difficulties of mastering the steps. But they speak wistfully about working together, and Crossman even details how performing Merce’s work made him a better person.

Star Rating:

Cunningham’s work is well documented, but seeing his work performed live a century after his birth and a decade after his passing is a real treat. Listening to warm anecdotes from his former company members is the icing on the cake.


Have you seen the Merce Cunningham Dance Company or see any events from the Cunningham Centennial year? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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