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July 21, 2003

In Memoriam

Mel Wong

By Scott Rappaport

Renowned choreographer, dancer, and visual artist Mel Wong died of a heart attack on Thursday, July 17, in Santa Cruz. He was 64.

Mel Wong
UCSC Photo Services

Wong established an international reputation, first as a performer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and then as a choreographer, teacher, and performer with the Mel Wong Dance Company. He had been a professor of dance in the Theater Arts Department at UC Santa Cruz since 1989.

Wong’s paintings and sculpture have been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the country. His dance background included professional training in ballet and modern dance in California and New York. He received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to Balanchine’s School of American Ballet in 1964 and 1965, and toured internationally with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (1968-72). He choreographed and performed his own work since 1970, and formed the Mel Wong Dance Company in 1975.

Wong’s company performed throughout the United States and in most of the major dance festivals in New York City, as well as at the Asian Arts Festival in Hong Kong (1983) and in Japan. He choreographed more than 180 dances, and his works can be seen in the repertoires of companies in Canada, the United States, Hong Kong, Japan, and Europe.

In 1983-84, Wong became the first Chinese-American to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in choreography. He also received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Foundation for Contemporary Performing Arts, the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, and the Ford Foundation.

Wong’s educational background includes a B.A. from San Francisco State University and graduate work at the University of California, Los Angeles, and at Mills College, where he received an M.F.A. in visual arts, as well as the Catherine Morgan Trefethen Fellowship in Art.

Wong is survived by his wife, UCSC lecturer in dance Constance Kreemer, and daughters Anika, Kira, and Suzanna Kreemer Wong, all of Santa Cruz; his mother, Louise Wong of Alameda; his brother, Maurice Wong of Oakland, and two nieces and two nephews.

A public celebration of Mel Wong’s life in Santa Cruz—including music and dance—will be held in September on a date to be determined. In lieu of flowers, tax-deductible contributions toward a college fund for his children may be made to the Mel Wong Dance Foundation, Inc., 201 Dickens Way, Santa Cruz, CA 95064.

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