Department Chair and Professor of Dance, Janet Lilly
Department Chair and Professor of Dance, Janet Lilly

Professor Lilly was in residency at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, January 5 through 11, re-setting her work  Requiem (2012) on the Milwaukee-based Danceworks Performance Company. Below, Lilly shares her thoughts about the work; Ed–her colleague and mentor; and making dances–something she does with students every semester in various capacities. 

I choreographed Requiem on UNCG undergraduate and graduate majors my first spring at UNCG in 2012.  My former UW Milwaukee colleague, Ed Burgess had passed away suddenly on May 12th, 2011.  It was a shock to everyone, because he was in tip-top shape (a bit of a beast actually working out daily and practically busting out of his “whose your daddy’ muscle shirts”).  Ed served as an inspiration to me as a model working educator artist in a university setting .  Initially I set about making the work as a way to honor his passing for myself.  In the opening and closing of the work I was thinking about Ecclesiastes 12:5, in which “when man goeth to his long home, and the wanderers are left to walk the streets.”   I also incorporated oddly funny epithets from 19th century British and American gravestones as a way to defuse the feelings of grief I had in losing someone so important to me, who had helped me choose to become an educator (when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to or was cut out to be one).

When I re-staged the work in Milwaukee in January 2015,  I was working with 16 dancers who had been influenced directly by Ed.  Dani Kuepper, now the Artistic Director of the Milwaukee-based professional contemporary dance company Danceworks, was one of the first dancers I met at UWM when I interviewed for the position in 1994.  She remains a breathtaking dancer; a physical powerhouse and yet vulnerable at the same time.  Another dancer, Joe Pikalek came to the department soon after in 1996. A classic surfer dude with nose piercings and tattoos, he was one of my son’s babysitters (much better dancer than babysitter by the way–Jimmy, my son was always escaping from him).  Other Danceworks company and guest dancers spanned the years up until those who had graduated in 2012.

For me defusing the potential emotionality of making a piece that celebrated Ed and his love of dance and dancers, and working again with our former students  brings up the question for me of why do we make dances anyway?  Of course there is no one answer to this question, but the process of inquiry, exploration and following all of the detours of curiosity remain the reasons that the field of choreography still compels me to enter the studio, take a look around and say to the dancers  “how about we try this….”

Read a recent review of Danceworks Performance Company’s ‘Breathe’