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Culture

Revolutionary choreographer Merce Cunningham dies

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-07-28

Merce Cunningham, the legendary New York-based choreographer who revolutionised modern dance in the 1950s, has died aged 90. The Cunningham Dance Foundation reported that he died peacefully at his home.

AFP - Merce Cunningham, the legendary New York-based choreographer who revolutionized modern dance, has died at age 90, his foundation said Monday.
   
"It is with great sorrow that we note the passing of Merce Cunningham, who died peacefully in his home last night of natural causes," the Cunningham Dance Foundation and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company said in a statement.
   
Even wheelchair-bound by the end of his career, Cunningham was still hard at work until shortly before his death. He danced on stage right into his 80s.
   
"Merce was an artistic maverick and the gentlest of geniuses. We have lost a great man and a great artist, but we celebrate his extraordinary life," said Judith Fishman, who chairs the Cunningham Dance Foundation.
   
During the World War II era, Cunningham partnered with the doyenne of American modern dance, Martha Graham, before striking out on his own and forming his company.
   
It was then, in long collaboration with John Cage, an influential Minimalist composer who was also his life partner, that Cunningham turned dance on its head.
   
Most radically, the couple decided to end the traditional marriage of movement and music, saying that both arts should exist independently even when sharing the same space.
   

Cunningham also abandoned conventional storytelling through ballet to focus entirely on the poetry of dance.
   
His foundation said he left "an indelible mark on our collective creativity and culture" and opened "new ways of perceiving and experiencing the world."
   
Although a revolutionary, he was motivated "not for the sake of iconoclasm, but for the beauty and wonder that lay in exploring new possibilities," the foundation said.
   
His influence is likely to long survive him. In June, he announced a "Living Legacy Plan," with a trust tasked with preserving and continuing his work.
   
The choreographer, who gave sold out performances in European capitals before gaining national fame, said the Merce Cunningham Trust was needed "because dancing is a process that never stops, and should not stop if it is to stay alive and fresh."
   
The trust is now set to follow a meticulously prepared program, including a two-year world tour.
   
After the tour, the foundation will formally close and the dance company will disband, but the trust will live on to manage Cunningham's works.
   
"My idea has always been to explore human physical movement," Cunningham said last month. "I attempt to teach students and dancers about my technique, but in a way that allows room for individuality."
   
But despite a lifetime devoted to dance and the plans for preserving his foundation, Cunningham spoke movingly of the fleeting nature of his chosen art form.
   
"You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive," he once said.
   
"It is not for unsteady souls."
 

Date created : 2009-07-28

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