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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

The Unsettling Fate of Love and Loss

Ed Burgess remembered at UWM's 'Winterdances'

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“Serendipitous” was the word Simone Ferro found to describe the haunting coincidences behind UW-Milwaukee's upcoming dance concert, “Fate/Love & Loss.” Ferro, a distinguished choreographer, dancer and faculty member, is the new chair of the UWM Peck School of the Arts' dance department and the artistic director of the annual “Winterdances.” The roles were thrust upon her unexpectedly, and she spoke about the show in the quiet voice of someone who has struggled with fate's unsettling interventions.

One happy aspect of the university's dance training is that students tackle a variety of challenging modern masterpieces with the added benefit that audiences get to see archival works in faithful reconstructions. Two years ago, the department applied to the American Masterpieces program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for a grant to reconstruct The Gift/No God Logic by the late Arnie Zane, choreographed in 1987 after Zane was diagnosed with AIDS. Zane died the next year at 39.

When the NEA awarded the grant, the late beloved Ed Burgess was chair of the UWM department and the renowned teacher/choreographer Janet Lilly had no plans to leave the faculty. Burgess died in his sleep last May, a young 58, and Lilly left in summer to chair the dance program at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. With no idea that such losses lay ahead, the department chose its theme for the concert with Zane's dance as its centerpiece: the impermanence of life at every moment.

Dance in Milwaukee is intimately entwined with the UWM department. Artistic directors Ferne Bronson of Ko-Thi, Deb Loewen of Wild Space, Dani Kuepper of Danceworks, and Elizabeth Johnson and Luc Vanier of Your Mother Dances all teach there, and many of their companies' dancers are graduates. Danceworks Performance Company is a virtual alumni organization. Milwaukee Ballet has a multifaceted partnership with UWM. The department brings an impressive roster of guest artists to town.

For its annual “Winterdances” and “Summerdances,” faculty and students create concerts of adventurous choreography and exuberant dancing. I have found them as rewarding, on their own terms, as any shows in town.

Current circumstances aside, universal impermanence is a beautiful theme for a show of young bodies in motion. Fate/Love & Loss includes two reconstructions. In addition to Zane's piece, one of Burgess' funniest dances has been brought back to life by Milwaukee dancer/actor Joe Fransee, who performed it under Burgess' direction in 2002. Titled Gotta Go, it shows two men feeling the urge to go somewhere but unable to leave. It should be poignant now.

The Gift/No God Logic
, set to excerpts from Verdi's La Forza del Destino, is nothing less than Zane's requiem for his own dying. It was reconstructed for this concert by Heidi Latsky. She was, along with Lilly, a principal dancer with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and in the original cast. The rehearsal director is international star and guest faculty member Gerald Casel. Burgess was serving as rehearsal director for a piece by Casel when he died.

Four new works by faculty members complete the bill.  Dani Kuepper created WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR ??? (sic) in collaboration with the students and composer Seth Warren-Crow. Burgess' voice is the primary score. The title reflects his emphatic/delicate, funny/serious ways of inspiring better work from students and colleagues. He could be speaking to all of us. Darci Brown Wutz contributed two contrasting dances: All That and but then…, titles that suggest her response to the theme. Wutz makes sensual dance theater. Luc Vanier offers his newest research into human movement possibilities in Bring It On Home with music by Led Zeppelin. His idiosyncratic ballet experiments are unforgettable.

Of her new job as chair, Ferro says, the most draining part “is when you need to defend and promote incessantly the relevance of what we do.”

A remembrance of Ed Burgess will take place 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Feb. 5, with a ceremony at 11 a.m., at the Zelazo Center, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd.


“Winterdances: Fate/Love & Loss” runs Feb. 2-5 at UWM Mainstage Theatre. For more information, call 414-229-4308 or visit arts.uwm.edu/winterdances.


John Schneider is a performing artist, teacher and assistant A&E editor of the
Shepherd Express.
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