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Avant-garde dance visionary Merce Cunningham dies at 90

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, has died at age 90, a spokeswoman said Monday.

Cunningham died of natural causes Sunday at his Manhattan home, said Leah Sandals, spokeswoman for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.

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

In a career of 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."

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."

As he turned 90 in April 2009, he debuted a long piece, "Nearly Ninety," set to new music from Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, the band Sonic Youth, and Japanese composer Takehisa Kosugi.

His Merce Cunningham Trust demands his troupe have a final, two-year tour, then its assets be transferred to the trust to digitally preserve his choreography.

Avant-garde dance visionary Merce Cunningham dies at 90 07/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 9:12pm]
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