Exploring the Tight Bond Between Sutton Stracke and the Late Dance Icon Merce Cunningham

Allison DeGrushe - Author
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Feb. 8 2024, Published 11:09 a.m. ET

Sutton Stracke and the late Merce Cunningham.
Source: Getty Imahes

Sutton Stracke may be familiar to many as a cast member on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but prior to her debut on the popular Bravo show, she held significant stature within the dance community. Even now, she remains an active contributor to the American Ballet Theatre, a connection that led her to befriend the legendary Merce Cunningham.

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Interest in Sutton's bond with the late Merce Cunningham resurfaced during Season 13 of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, as she disclosed bringing the dancer/choreographer's ashes on a trip to Spain. This revelation sparked curiosity among fans, prompting them to inquire about the depth of their friendship. So, how close were they really?

John Cage and Merce Cunningham attend the opening of a dance series at the Minskoff Theatre in NYC on Jan. 18, 1977.
Source: Getty Imahes
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How did 'RHOBH' star Sutton Stracke meet the late Merce Cunningham?

During an interview with The Daily Dish, Sutton delved into her background as a choreographer and ballet dancer (she later transitioned to modern dance). The reality TV personality expressed her passion for choreography, particularly in the realm of modern dance, hoping to become a renowned figure in the field.

Sutton also revealed her dedication to studying the iconic techniques of the late great José Limón, which she pursued for a year. Soon enough, the José Limón Dance Company invited Sutton to audition for the company, but despite her preparedness, she opted not to go — and that's when she started working for Merce Cunningham.

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"There was something in me that just said, 'I don't want to do this.' And so that's when I took a job working for Merce Cunningham as the studio manager," Sutton explained. "It was a very strange moment for me, but I kept dancing. I did choreograph some things after that, but I just didn't want to be on the stage."

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Sutton worked her way to the top and eventually took over as the director of development for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in New York. Sutton formed a close bond with the influential dance figure, to the extent that after his passing in 2009, she received Merce's ashes.

During the Jan. 25, 2024, episode of RHOBH, Sutton disclosed her intention to bring Merce's ashes on the cast trip to Spain to release them "in a significant place and make this a really meaningful trip."

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Merce Cunningham was a highly influential dancer and choreographer.

Merce Cunningham was a deeply influential American dancer and choreographer known for his avant-garde approach to dance. He played a pivotal role in shaping modern dance and contemporary choreography, establishing the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953, renowned for its pioneering and experimental performances.

Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and company in 1986.
Source: Getty Imahes

Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and company in 1986.

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Throughout his illustrious career, Merce collaborated extensively with diverse artists, especially his lifelong romantic partner, composer John Cage. Their partnership, both personally and professionally, was a masterpiece that unfolded over many years until John's passing in 1992.

On July 26, 2009, at the age of 90, Merce Cunningham passed away peacefully in his home from natural causes. His artistic contributions left a lasting mark on the dance world, inspiring countless choreographers and dancers across generations. To this day, his legacy endures through ongoing performances of his works and the preservation of his choreographic repertoire.

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