Ed Burgess, chair of the UWM Dance Department, has died
Update 2:45 p.m. Saturday, May 14: A blog has been established for the friends, colleagues students students and admirers to post and share their memories of Ed Burgess.
Friday afternoon, about 300 attended an informal, hastily arranged memorial at the UWM Main Stage Theater. Janet Lilly, Marcia Parsons, Simone Ferro and Fern Caulker were among Burgess’ UWM dance department colleagues who shared their memories. Tearful students rose in groups by class, freshman to seniors, to testify to his impact on their lives. Alums and friends spanned time and distance for the event. Alan Sener, of the University of Iowa dance faculty and an old Burgess friend from their New York days, made everyone laugh with some bulls-eye imitations of Burgess’ ways of moving and speaking.
Students from Burgess’ choreography composition class danced the last segment of a collaborative dance, the last dance Burgess would have seen. The central figure, who spoke her elaborate text through tears, wore angel wings as a costume.
The tentative date for a more formal memorial is Monday, May 23, on a site to be determined at UWM. Updates will appear in this space at the UWM Peck School of the Arts website.
Update 10 a.m. Friday, May 13, via Janet Lilly: The Dance Faculty and students hope that you will join us for a remembrance event Friday, May 13, 2011 in the UWM Mainstage Theatre at 1:00 pm. We welcome everyone to come and if you wish, share a story, a picture, memento or memory of our dear friend Buddy Ed Burgess. Ed touched the lives of so many of us in so many ways. His humor, unflinching will and indomitable spirit inspired a generation of dance artists. We will all keep him in our hearts and remember his glorious dancing every time we step into the studio. DVD and video equipment will be available at tomorrow’s event and we will show excerpts of his choreography and performance. Please join us if you can.
Ed Burgess, chairman of the dance program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, died in his sleep Wednesday night. Burgess was 58.
Burgess joined UWM in 1989, after a substantial professional dance career, primarily as a member of Jennifer Muller and The Works. The department was in a bad way at that point. It had been folded into the theater department and had attracted few majors. Burgess was its first chair when it re-emerged as an independent department in 2003. Burgess was the first of several faculty members to begin to stress creativity and entrepreneurship in addition to strong technique. Enrollment grew and the quality of students has risen ever since. The generations of UWM dancers who have made Milwaukee’s dance scene so vibrant are Burgess’ greatest legacy.
Burgess choreographed for and sometimes danced with the Milwaukee Ballet, Your Mother Dances, Danceworks and Wild Space, among other companies. Often, he appeared with former students who had become colleagues and dance professionals. He also created innumerable dances for UWM students and appeared in countless shows at UWM.
His talent didn’t end with dance. Burgess worked as an actor, too; most recently, he played Nijinsky in Theatre Gigante’s Isadora and Nijinsky, which he co-wrote with Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson. (Burgess appeared to be in good health during that run, May 5-8.) Burgess also worked as a movement coach for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and as a stage director. His directing credits, mostly for musicals, include The Cleveland Playhouse, The Monomoy Theatre on Cape Cod, The Hartt School in Hartford, CT., and the Bay View Music Festival on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Colleagues and students reacted to the news with shock Thursday morning. Janet Lilly, a dance department colleague and frequent Burgess collaborator, said that Burgess missed a Thursday-morning production meeting for the upcoming Summerdances. Lilly said that everyone grew concerned immediately.
“Ed just doesn’t miss production meetings,” Lilly said.
She and Burgess shared the same personal trainer, David Pritchard. Lilly called Pritchard to inquire after Burgess. Pritchard was near Burgess’ home and offered to drop in to remind him of the meeting. He found Burgess and called authorities.
“We believe he died peacefully, in his sleep,” Lilly said.
Lee Ann Garrison, chair of the Department of Visual Art and Design, was both saddened and astonished. “I’m standing on the spot where we had a long, funny conversation yesterday,” she said, via cell phone.
Burgess was a very good administrator and project partner. He has played an important role, for example, in the Harmony Initiative, which involves the Milwaukee Ballet, The Medical College of Wisconsin, and the UWM Peck School of the Arts. That project would bring the city the dance center and small theater fans and dancers have dreamed of for decades.
Burgess’ work ethic, his open-minded sense of fun in the theater, and his personal kindness and integrity inspired generations of students. Ed Burgess died too young, but he used the time he had to make a huge difference at UWM and in Milwaukee’s cultural life.
Funeral and memorial arrangements are not yet planned. Updates on both will be posted on the Peck School of the Arts website.