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Mel Wong, 64; Led Dancers Known for Avant-Garde Works

July 23, 2003|From Staff and Wire Reports

Mel Wong, 64, a dancer, choreographer and painter whose Santa Cruz-based dance troupe performed its avant-garde works around the country, died Thursday) of an apparent heart attack after collapsing at a swimming pool in Santa Cruz.

Wong, who was born and raised in Oakland, began to dance in high school when he was involved in gymnastics and decided to add dance steps to his floor exercises. Soon he was studying with Raoul Pause, who directed the Oakland Civic Ballet. He continued his training with the San Francisco Ballet, the Pacific Ballet and with Ann Halprin while studying at San Francisco State University.

In 1976 he took a course at Merce Cunningham's studio in New York and, to Wong's surprise, was asked to join Cunningham's company a few weeks later. He performed with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1968 to 1972 in the original casts of such works as "Canfield" and "Second Hand."

He established the Mel Wong Dance Foundation in 1975, offering an eclectic mix of dance-theater pieces, biographical sketches and pure movement performed by a company composed of six UC Santa Cruz graduates. He also taught dance at various colleges and universities. For the past 14 years he had taught at UC Santa Cruz, where he was a tenured professor.

Wong, who had a master's degree in visual arts from UCLA, also was a painter and sculptor whose work has been shown in galleries in California and New York.

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