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Obituary: Louis Falco

Louis Falco, dancer and choreographer: born New York City 2 August 1942; died New York City 26 March 1993.

ONCE described as looking like a strong and beautiful baroque angel, the American dancer and choreographer Louis Falco has died at the age of 50, a victim of Aids according to Alan Sener, a personal assistant. It is a sad irony of our times that an artist of unusual comeliness and magnetic stage presence, whose work celebrated personal beauty, is lost at an early age to a wasting disease.

Although in his early career Falco was a featured dancer in the company of the contemporary dance pioneer Jose Limon, Falco belonged to a generation that widened men's style from the stalwart, traditionally masculine kind of muscularity epitomised by Limon to include a more flexible, stretchy, openly sensuous and androgynous way of moving. Besides maintaining his own group from 1967 to 1983 and choreographing for other companies - he made Tutti-frutti for Ballet Rambert in 1973 - Falco had particular success as choreographer for the 1980 film Fame, which depicted aspiring students at his own Alma Mater, the High School of the Performing Arts in New York City.

Falco was born and grew up on New York City's tough Lower East Side. He felt that this and his father's Neapolitan background were factors contributing to his gutsy style, according to a 1977 interview. Besides Limon, his teachers included Charles Weidman, in whose company he danced briefly. Since Limon himself was an artistic descendant of Weidman and Doris Humphrey - whose shared style was a seminal influence in American contemporary dance - Falco himself was very much an inheritor of the Humphrey/Weidman fall-and-recovery approach to movement.

Endowed with natural aptitude for dancing, Falco began his training only at the age of 15, studying additionally with Martha Graham and at the American Ballet Theatre School, and he began dancing professionally just three years later. His success as a dancer included, in the Limon company between 1960 and 1970, some of the great roles Limon had made for himself, besides dancing with his own company, he performed as a guest at La Scala and with Rudolf Nureyev on Broadway.

He presented the first program of his own choreography in 1967 and formed the Louis Falco Company of Featured Dancers shortly after. It appeared in Europe for the first time in 1969 at the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds and toured Europe in 1973.

Falco generated a strong following while sometimes being criticised as the choreographer of facile pop dancing. His small group of notably attractlve and generous, energetic dancers included Jennifer Muller and Matthew Diamond, who became choreographers in their own right. The works he choreographed, though without stories, concentrated on personal relationships, and the performers sometimes talked while dancing, often about childhood memories or their love lives. He commissioned designs from noted artists such as Robert Indiana, Marisol, William Katz and Stanley Landsman.

Offspring of the 1960s' sexual freedom and loosening of gender roles, his lush, voluptuous dances with their spectacular dancing and unfocused intensity suggested casual sex and images of youth. The early Huescape (1968) depicted a triangular relationship in which a woman intervened between two men.

In the 1970 Caviar, a rock band on stage sang about ecology, and the dancers wore foam-rubber space shoes and played with full-sized foam- rubber sharks. The Sleepers (1971) took place among piles of feathers suggesting a bed where the dancers coupled and fought.

In addition to choreographing for Ballet Rambert, Boston Ballet, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, he received commissions from a number of European companies: Netherlands Dance Theatre, La Scala Ballet, Ballet Theatre Contemporain de Nancy and Tanz-Forum der Oper der Stadt Koln.

Falco received a Guggenheim Fellowship for choreography, was in demand as a teacher, staged opera productions and worked on Broadway. The success of Fame led to his dismantling his company and working in film, television and music videos.

(Photograph omitted)