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Merce Cunningham to be honored by Jacob's Pillow


Merce Cunningham [photo by Mark Seliger/Courtesy Jacob's Pillow]



(Becket, Mass., May 22, 2009) – The third annual Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award will go to Merce Cunningham, considered by many to be the world’s greatest living choreographer.

The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award honors outstanding visionary artists and carries a cash prize of $25,000, to be used by the choreographer to enhance their artistry in any way they choose.

The official in-person presentation of the Award will take place at the Jacob’s Pillow Season Opening Gala on Saturday, June 20.

“Merce Cunningham is a brilliant thinker, dancemaker, and extraordinary person altogether. He has changed the way we see and understand dance and music,” comments Pillow director Ella Baff.

“We are proud to honor his contributions to our field and his long-standing relationship with the Pillow, which dates back to 1955. It is with great respect and admiration that we present him with the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award in his 90th birthday year.”

In 2007, Jacob’s Pillow received an ongoing, annual anonymous gift of $50,000, of which $25,000 supports Jacob’s Pillow commissions, presentations, and artist development initiatives, such as the organization’s Creative Development Residency program.

The remaining $25,000 is given annually as a cash gift to the recipient of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award.

Each year a different innovative artist is selected by Jacob’s Pillow to receive this honor. In addition to the cash gift, awardees are often invited to perform at the Pillow, given a commission, or invited to create new work during a Creative Development Residency at the Pillow.

Along with this moral and material support, the honoree receives a custom-designed glass sculpture by Berkshire-based artist Tom Patti, whose work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York among other prominent collections worldwide.

In 2007, the inaugural Award was given to Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, co-directors of Big Dance Theater, who will return in 2009 to direct the Choreographers Lab at The School at Jacob’s Pillow.

Last year, Alonzo King, Artistic Director of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, was honored.

The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award is presented in person during the Pillow’s season opening Gala performance, which this year includes Festival artist Jason Samuels Smith, formerly of Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk; a world premiere choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov for the 22 emerging professional dancers of the Ballet Program at The School at Jacob’s Pillow; Andrea Miller’s Gallim Dance in excerpts from I Can See Myself in Your Pupil; and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, who will unveil the world premiere of choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Orbo Novo in July during the Festival.

Recently recognized by Alastair Macaulay of The New York Times as the world’s "greatest living artist," Merce Cunningham has altered the landscape of contemporary dance.

With a career distinguished by innovation and collaboration, he has expanded the frontiers of dance, as well as the contemporary visual and performing arts.

An active choreographer and mentor to the dance world at the age of 90, Cunningham has earned some of the highest honors bestowed in the arts. Among his awards are the National Medal of Arts (1990) and the MacArthur Fellowship (1985). Cunningham's life and artistic vision have been the subject of four books and three major exhibitions, and his works have been presented by the Paris Opéra Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, White Oak Dance Project, and London's Rambert Dance Company.

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company made its first Pillow appearance in 1955, just two years after the company was founded.

The following season, the company returned for six performances, in a year when Cunningham's entire schedule encompassed a total of eleven performances.

The Pillow commissioned a new work from Cunningham for that engagement, and the company has since returned to the Pillow seven times.

This year, Merce Cunningham Dance Company performs a retrospective of Cunningham’s work, including CRWDSPCR (1993), Sounddance (1975), and eyeSpace (2006), an innovative work in which the audience creates its own soundtrack using iPod shuffles.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company will perform in the Ted Shawn Theatre, July 22-26.

The Pillow is also mounting a special commemorative exhibit entitled The Art of Merce Cunningham, and will present two Cunningham-related PillowTalks on July 23 and July 26.

For information regarding the Gala or the company’s Pillow engagement, visit www.jacobspillow.org.

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