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The American choreographer Merce Cunningham, one of the creative giants of the 20th century, has died at the age of 90.
He died peacefully in his home of natural causes on July 26th, 2009. His passing bringing to a close one of the most extraordinary careers in dance.
In many ways Cunningham was an unreconstructed revolutionary as well as the father of American modern dance. For more than 50 years he remained true to his avant-garde instincts, refusing to follow any fashion but the one he spawned. He famously espoused the cause of random creativity, making dances that were determined by the toss of a coin or the roll of the I Ching.
Late in life he discovered the joys of computer-assisted choreography, letting new technology aid his imaginative forays into the potential of human movement.
Nothing was planned in the Cunningham universe. Design, music and dance were all created independently of one another and only came together in performance. Yet he attracted some of the most important collaborators, including the artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, and the composers John Cage (his long-time partner), David Tudor and, more recently, the English rockers Radiohead.
Often his uncompromising approach alienated audiences who were puzzled by the lack of story and musical inspiration in his work. But just as often he was revered for the serendipity and dazzling elegance of his meticulously constructed dances, works so pure in concept and pristine in execution that they took the breath away. Fabrications, Channels/Inserts, Ocean, Biped, Split Sides: the list of outstanding creations is too long to mention.
In person he came across as a gentle man with an impish sense of humour. As a dancer, he was an endearing and gnomic presence. As a choreographer, his intellectual curiosity was legendary.
“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.”
Last month, the Foundation announced that following Cunningham’s death, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company would close after undertaking a two-year international tour. Then everything, from costumes and props to audio and video recordings, will revert to the Merce Cunningham Trust which will protect the integrity of his work and hold the copyright to all his choreography.
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