Vol. 10, No. 32

August 8-14, 2002

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Farewell Edward Stewart
Artistic Director of the Ballet Theatre of Maryland
by Norbert M. DuBois

Keeping Vigil
Sitting quietly for countless nights, she drifted between silent prayer, brief moments of sleep and ponderings on life — and death. Cherry Golding-Dowsley, former ballerina with the old Ballet Theatre of Annapolis, watched over Eddie Stewart as he lay dying. He had been her guide and her inspiration.

“He brought out the best in his dancers. Many dancers wrote to him, ‘Eddie, you brought out the best in me.’” A farewell journal in his hospice room recorded those memories.

Anton Wilson, the Maryland-born choreographer who danced in Japan, Germany and the Netherlands and has spent the past six years teaching at Baltimore High School of Performing Arts and choreographing for Ballet Theatre of Maryland, concurs.

“Eddie was gentle and compassionate. He was so unpretentious. He was just Eddie.”

Bat (pronounced baht) Udval, a Russian-trained dancer from Mongolia, learned Saturday, July 27, that Stewart’s condition had taken a turn for the worse. He was finishing a concert in Philadelphia, and — without taking the time to eat or rest — he drove to Baltimore’s Mercy Hospital. Entering hospice room 803, he could see that Stewart lay unconscious, breathing audibly shallow breaths. Udval implored the vigil-keepers to “please let him know I was here.” Then, having barely stayed an hour, off he went. “I have a concert to do tomorrow,” he said. It was 2am.

Two days later on Tuesday afternoon, July 30, 2002, lung cancer claimed Edward Stewart’s life.

Bat Udval was among several fine dancers with international careers who stayed on to perform for Ballet Theatre of Maryland during its past several seasons — though he could have earned a higher salary elsewhere. Why did he stay?

In his heavily accented English he explained, “First, he is nicest person. He cared about me. If not for him I would not be here. He is artistic director. Some directors are like ‘you dance, we pay.’ That’s all. With Eddie I felt he cared about his dancers first.”

Were Janice Barringer’s face framed in a nun’s habit or a nurse’s cap, she could not have looked more radiantly loving and compassionate as she beheld the shrunken figure of the man she has loved and worked with for so many years. In the dark hours of early Sunday morning, light from the streetlight outside reflected upon her knit brow and moistened eyes, the ballerina, author and teacher maintained her vigil for dance parter Edward Stewart. For nearly three decades she had been his confidant, and at one time — we suspect — his fiancée. But that was before Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

The Work of 20 Years
During the more than 20 years Stewart spent in Maryland, he taught ballet at Towson State University, The Villa Julie School, Baltimore High School of the Performing Arts and, of course, at Maryland Hall in Annapolis, home of Ballet Theatre of Maryland.

It was he who started the old Ballet Theatre of Maryland Annapolis, with a few local dancers and students from Towson. Eventually, his vision, his humility and charm of the man who never forgot his modest Scottish Catholic upbringing in Central Pennsylvania attracted ballet dancers from far beyond Maryland: Russians, Chinese, Hispanics, Mongolians, Koreans and many more were drawn to him.

For those who’d already had international careers, it was often a relief to work with a director of such artistic creativity — who had none of the dictatorial egotism often associated with this art. For many of the other dancers, working with Eddie was a high point of their lives, both in art and in nurture.

“He was a wonderful teacher,” said Dr. Helene Breazeale, former assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication as well as chair of Towson’s dance department. “One year, after viewing his ballet class for my Teacher Evaluations, I said to him, ‘Eddie, you need to be harder on your students! Correct them more.’ But he wasn’t hard on them, which must have been one reason his students loved him so much.”

Now all the love Eddie had given was returning to him.

“Ever since he entered the hospital two months ago, he has never been alone,” said Barringer. “There has always been some former dancer or student, whether from years back or recent, at his side. Dancer after dancer after dancer has said that their years with Eddie were the best years of their lives. He was truly dedicated, so totally focused on his work and to his dancers.”

A Family of Dancers
Early in the evening of July 27, some 20 former and current dancers, holding each others’ hands in a semicircle around the bed of their now unconscious teacher, prayed The Lord’s Prayer. His adopted family of dancers were the family who saw him to the end of his earthly days and nights.

They are the Russian ballet couple, the Italian-American ballerina, the African-American students from Baltimore High School of the Performing Arts. They are the local gals who danced with him a decade ago and have since gone on to motherhood, bringing their infants to see their great teacher.

Candice Itow is one of them. A Japanese-American ballerina with New York City Opera, she had known Stewart since he started ballet training more than 35 years ago. “Spending the time that I did with him at hospice this past weekend let me see the impact that he had on so many lives,” Itow said.

“It was wonderful to see. It showed that Eddie, above all, was a very giving and caring person. So many directors use their position to feed their own egos, but it was clear from everyone that Eddie nurtured his dancers as artists, and in doing so helped them become more than artists.”

Ed Stewart’s memorial service is 10am Friday, August 9 at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen, 5300 North Charles Street, Baltimore, (between Cold Spring Lane and Northern Parkway).

Norbert Dubois danced with Ballet Theatre of Annapolis 20 years ago. As a photojournalist, he has done stories on ballet for Bay Weekly, Dance magazine and Amnesty International’s magazine.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly