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Dancer Merce Cunningham


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Avant-Garde Choreographer Merce Cunningham

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Merce Cunningham

NEW YORK, New York -- Merce Cunningham, the avant-garde dancer and choreographer who revolutionized modern dance by creating works of pure movement divorced from storytelling and even from their musical accompaniment, died Sunday, July 26 at his Manhattan home of natural causes, said Leah Sandals, spokeswoman for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Sandals would not specify the exact cause of death. He was 90.

"Merce saw beauty in the ordinary, which is what made him extraordinary," said Trevor Carlson, executive director of the Cunningham Dance Foundation. "He did not allow convention to lead him, but was a true artist, honest and forthcoming in everything he did."

In a career that spanned more than 60 years and some 150 works, Cunningham wiped out storytelling in dance, tossed coins or dice to determine steps, and shattered such unwritten rules as having dancers usually face the audience. The New York Times wrote in 1982, "As playful as he has often seemed, Cunningham has always been one of America's most serious artists . . . one of the few true revolutionaries in the history of dance."

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Longtime partners on and off the stage were

(L-R) Composer John Cage and Dancer Merce

Cunningham

He worked closely with composer John Cage, his longtime partner who died in 1992, and with visual artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. But, he said, "I am and always have been fascinated by dancing, and I can just as well do a dance without the visual thing." Unlike his onetime mentor, Martha Graham, he did not intend his dances to expression emotion or act out a drama.

Other choreographers have made plotless dances but Cunningham did his even without music. The audience got both dance and music, but the steps weren't done to the music's beat, and sometimes the dancers were hearing the music for the first time on stage. "I'd rather find out something than repeat what I know," he once said. "I prefer adventure to something that's fixed."

Cunningham also used chance

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