Merce Cunningham

To him, Avant-Garde dance had little to do with symbolism. "You see a chair strapped on my back," Merce Cunningham, the American modernist choreographer who died on July 26 at 90, mused to TIME in 1960. "Can't we just say, 'How strange'?" Nary an envelope went unpushed during his nearly seven decades of creating and performing dance masterpieces.

Though he began his career as a soloist for the famed Martha Graham company in 1939, he struck out on his own in 1944, the beginning of his almost 50-year collaboration--both professional and personal--with composer John Cage. He strayed from Graham's romantic, balletic...

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