July 28, 2009 / 12:20 AM / 10 years ago

Choreographer Merce Cunningham dies at 90

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. choreographer and dancer Merce Cunningham, credited by many with revolutionizing visual and performing arts, has died at age 90, his foundation and dance company said on Monday.

Choreographer Merce Cunningham after receiving the 2000 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in New York. REUTERS/File

Cunningham, whose long-time partner was the late composer John Cage, died peacefully at home on Sunday of natural causes, the Cunningham Dance Foundation and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company said in a statement on Monday.

“In his final years he became almost routinely hailed as the world’s greatest choreographer,” a New York Times obituary said. “His choreography showed that dance was principally about itself, not music, while often suggesting that it could also be about many other things as well.”

Born in Centralia, Washington, Cunningham trained in dance and theater at the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and from 1939 to 1945 was a soloist dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company.

He formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953 and choreographed nearly 200 works for the company. Cunningham’s work has also been performed by Ballet of the Paris Opera, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and Boston Ballet.

“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,” Cunningham is quoted on his website www.merce.org.

Among the honors and awards given to Cunningham were the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, the National Medal of Arts, a Laurence Olivier Award in London and an Officer of the Legion of Honor in France.

He continued performing as a dancer into his 80s and has also worked in film and video, collaborating with filmmakers Charles Atlas and Elliot Caplan.

“With his partner John Cage, he opened up new ways of perceiving and experiencing the world, and his insatiable curiosity, collaborative spirit, and love of the new inspired countless artists across disciplines,” his foundation and company said.

“Merce has left an indelible mark on our collective creativity and culture; his legacy will resonate in the dance world and beyond for generations to come,” they said.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Vicki Allen

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