Choreography / 1942

Totem Ancestor

The Early Years highlights Merce Cunningham’s life and work through 1949.

Originally created as an addition to a joint concert including Cunningham and two fellow members of the Graham Company, Jean Erdman and Nina Fonaroff. This brief solo by Cunningham was performed on a diagonal line, as he traveled the stage leaping from kneeling and crouched positions. Cage wrote the music once the dance had been completed, and costume design was by Charlotte Trowbridge: a black leotard with staggered grey stripes. This piece was one of the few Cunningham dances to have been recorded in Labanotation, by Lena Belloc.


Premiere Date

Oct 20, 1942

Premiere Venue

Humphrey-Weidman Studio Theatre

Premiere Location

New York, NY


John Cage, Totem Ancestor


Charlotte Trowbridge


3 minutes

Original Cast

Merce Cunningham

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