Mercier "Merce" Philip Cunningham (April 16, 1919 – July 26, 2009) was an American dancer andchoreographer who was at the forefront of the American avant-garde for more than 50 years. Throughout much of his life, Cunningham was considered one of the greatest creative forces in American dance. He is also notable for his frequent collaborations with artists of other disciplines, including musicians John Cage and David Tudor, artists Robert Rauschenberg and Bruce Nauman, designer Romeo Gigli, and architect Benedetta Tagliabue. Works that he produced with these artists had a profound impact on avant-garde art beyond the world of dance.
As a choreographer, teacher and leader of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Cunningham had a profound influence on modern dance. Many dancers who trained with Cunningham formed their own companies, and they include Paul Taylor, Remy Charlip, Viola Farber, Charles Moulton, Karole Armitage, Robert Kovich, Foofwa d’Immobilité, Kimberly Bartosik, Floanne Ankah and Jonah Bokaer.
In 2009, the Cunningham Dance Foundation announced the Legacy Plan, a precedent-setting plan for the continuation of Cunningham’s work and the celebration and preservation of his artistic legacy.
Cunningham earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts, including the National Medal of Arts and the MacArthur Fellowship. He also received Japan's Praemium Imperiale, a British Laurence Olivier Award, and was named Officier of the Légion d'honneur in France.
Cunningham’s life and artistic vision have been the subject of numerous books, films, and exhibitions, and his works have been presented by groups including the Paris Opéra Ballet, New York City Ballet,American Ballet Theatre, White Oak Dance Project, and London's Rambert Dance Company.