In his memoir, Mr. Avian wrote about what made his creative partnership with Mr. Bennett work.
“I wasn’t cautious with Michael,” he wrote. “I knew him so well that I could tell him exactly what I thought. In effect I seemed to instinctively assume the role of his editor. Michael was a more mercurial personality than I, and ambitious though I was, I did not possess Michael’s burning intensity. I didn’t want to be Michael, and he didn’t want to be me.”
Robert Avedisian (he shortened the name when he became a professional dancer) was born on Dec. 26, 1937, in Manhattan to John and Esther (Keleshian) Avedisian, immigrants from Armenia. His father was a chef, and his mother was a seamstress. By the time he was 11, he knew he loved to dance and was pretty good at it.
“When my parents went out, I would push back the furniture, clear an open space, turn on the record player, and leap around the apartment,” he wrote in his memoir. “Boys weren’t supposed to dance, especially not in Armenian culture, but I loved music, and I especially loved the freedom I found in dancing.”
He didn’t have any formal training, though, until he enrolled at Boston University, where he graduated from the College of Fine Arts in 1958. He also studied at the Boston Ballet School.
After the “West Side Story” tour — which was playing Berlin when the Berlin Wall went up in 1961 — he booked a national tour of “Carnival!,” working under the director and choreographer Gower Champion. Not long after, he got his first chance to see a show choreographed by his friend Mr. Bennett, a summer stock production of the Richard Rodgers musical “No Strings.”
“I knew right away that he had it — and he knew he had it,” Mr. Avian wrote.
Mr. Bennett’s career took off, and with it Mr. Avian’s soon did too.