Martha Graham, the dancer and choreographer whose fierce and erotic ballets marked a revolutionary departure from classical forms and defined modern dance, has died at age 96.

Graham, who died at home Monday of congestive heart failure, first danced at age 21 and performed until she was 76. She continued to choreograph ballets long after that in a career that embraced nearly the entire 20th century.Her works included "Lamentation" in 1930; "Primitive Mysteries" in 1931; "Letter to the World" in 1940, in which dancers enacted the life of Emily Dickinson; and "Appalachian Spring" in 1944, with music by Aaron Copland.

The most recent of the 180 works she choreographed was "Maple Leaf Rag," which had its debut Oct. 2 in New York.

Her early work was compared to Picasso's paintings and Stravinsky's music in its revolutionary impact.

Graham's technique was "on a par with ballet dancing, which took 400 years to develop," said ballet choreographer Agnes de Mille.

Her students and dancers became stars, among them Pearl Lang, Merce Cunningham and Paul Taylor. But none surpassed Graham in the extent of her contribution to the uniquely American art form that broke from 19th century classicism.

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Martha Graham, Dancer, choreographer\

Born: May 11, 1894, in Pittsburgh

Age: 96

Her 180 works include:

"Lamentation," 1930\ "Primitive Mysteris," 1931

"Letter to the World," 1940

"Appalachian Spring," 1944 (with music by Aaron Copland)

"Rite of Spring," 1984 (with music by Igor Stravinsky)