Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Martin Brody

Additional Advisor(s)

Patricia Berman


In the summer of 1953, one could hardly call Merce Cunningham’s group of dancers “a company” in the formal sense of the term. At the time it was only one of many protean artistic experiments taking shape at Black Mountain College, a hotbed of intellectual activity where artists’ ideas circulated freely across the disciplines of music, dance, and the visual arts. Black Mountain fostered a collaborative setting for some of the most important creative minds of the second half of the twentieth century, yet during that summer their place in the American artistic pantheon was far from guaranteed. My thesis explores Cunningham’s unlikely trajectory in becoming a cultural icon through an analysis of his aesthetic, networks, and funding. The project attempts to address the question of how this marginal experiment came to represent twentieth century American dance.