Tom Strini

Ed Burgess, chair of the UWM Dance Department, has died

By - May 12th, 2011 03:26 pm
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Ed Burgess and students. UWM photo by Jessica Kaminski.

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.

Ed Burgess and students. Jessica Kaminiski photo for UWM.

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.

Categories: Dance

11 thoughts on “Ed Burgess, chair of the UWM Dance Department, has died”

  1. Yolanda Everson-Johnson says:

    When you have wonderful teachers like Mr. Burgess, you thank God for the opportunity to work with someone that changes and enriches your experience of dance. He blessem me with alot of wonderful opportunities. I remember him helping me to find that true dancer inside of me. Him being instrumental in my huge banner hanging in the student union, it meant alot to me. So many things that since graduating he taught me and I in turn use with my students. I remember him saying, “Let go and just go for it.” Thank you, Thank you Mr. Burgess. To the UWM Dance family, thank you for the love and guidance you gave and another special thank you to Marcia and Ferne! It’s never to late to say thank you or show appreciation!

  2. Jake N says:

    Ed – I’ve missed you so much the past 8 years, and looks like thats not going to end anytime soon. You always were and always will be a one-of-a-kind absolute masterpiece. An indescribably awesome artist, mentor & human. Words just cant wrap around you. Safe travels to wherever you are going, sweet incredible man. The waves of your voice and generosity will never fade.

    So many condolences to his friends, colleagues & students. Kind thoughts are with you all.

  3. Christine sobczak says:

    I am a photographer….i attended UWM and graduated with a degree in art/photography….my other art love was/is contemporary dance (ballet is cool too). I attended many UWM dance productions (Parsons inspired me to do so)…I never spoke with Ed but….visually viewed him as beautiful, elegant and the carriage of a ballet dancer’s perfect posture…I am shocked about his death…

  4. Sarah Mesa says:

    Ed taught me how to breathe… how to fill a room with my whole body… spirit, mind, soul… he taught me how to dance like I never experinced before! Ed has touched many and will be missed… but lives on as I breathe… move, dance, and never forget him.
    Ed Burgess was one of a kind, he will be sorely missed…

  5. Kelly Fitzpatrick McKee says:

    Wow! Shocking news! & hugely sad. I worked as Ed’s assistant the summer of ’93. He was a joy to work with, an inspiring artist. Thanks for this lovely tribute to his honor.

  6. Sarah Beasley says:

    I am shocked by this news. He was one of the most passionate teachers that I have ever had. I was simply intrigued by him and respected that he was a true artist that I was lucky to have witnessed. He taught me how to fill it in “in between”which I have translated into other areas of my life. He made his students write papers on dance performances and I embarrassingly wrote in one paper..”singers should sing, actors should act, and dancers should dance…If you make it more then that then you run the risk of it being self indulgent and not always fit for public consumption”. He gave me an A and wrote “Sarah, strong opinions as usual”. I was young and and didn’t get it but over time he led me on a journey of learning how to appreciate and create a lasting memory and impression via dance for someone to translate as this wish. His style was unique, honest, and comedic. Again,I feel lucky to have crossed paths with him.

  7. Erin Rahn says:

    What a shock! Ed was an incredible artist and teacher. I am so sad and so thankful to have had the amazing opportunity to be his student.

  8. Marcos says:

    Once when I was trying to excuse my lateness to dance class, with a laundry list of personal and mental problems. Ed told me:

    “You just have to be tougher than all that.”

    It became one of my mantras. I got to work 20 minutes early today.

    I thought you were indestructible, Professor Burgess. Thanks for the dancing, the humor, madness, and the passion.

    Thanks to the author for this compassionate rememberance of a giant in the Milwaukee dance community. Please continue following the story for those of us who are too far away to participate in events in person.

  9. Allyson Green says:

    Thank you Tom for writing this lovely article. Ed Burgess was a wonderful teacher and colleague. He will be sorely missed by us all…

  10. Melissa says:

    I am so sad for this loss. Thank you for this thoughtful article.

  11. gina guehrer says:

    Ed touched my life, i will never forget him…..
    xoxoxoxoxo

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