Fort Wayne Ballet Shares Edward Stierle's Enduring Legacy
Dancer and choreographer Edward Stierle was born the youngest of eight children, each of whom was encouraged by their parents to pursue their interests. It was young Eddie’s great fortune that his older sister Rose, herself a talented dancer, took her baby brother under her wing, and even now, more than 30 years after his death at 23, she remains his greatest friend, ally, and mentor.
As Rose continues to share the legacy of her brother, so too has Fort Wayne Ballet which has been sharing Stierle’s genius as a choreographer, having previously performed Lacrymosa and Empyrean Dances as part of their season schedules. This weekend’s performances of Dancer’s Legacy: An Evening of Stierle will see both of those pieces performed along with the Fort Wayne debut of Concerto con Brio, providing Fort Wayne Ballet’s audiences a rare glimpse into Stierle’s unique talents, an opportunity which will extend beyond those who will experience the performances in the Arts United Center this Friday and Saturday.
“These pieces have never all been done on stage before, and our PBS station will be there to capture it for broadcast,” said Karen Gibbons-Brown, artistic director of Fort Wayne Ballet. “Many of the dancers who created these roles are coming to see it, and we’ll have a photo display along with many of the costumes Rose created. She is a master seamstress and had done many of the costumes for his pieces. It’s important because much of his choreography is based on patterns in appliques.”
In the final months of his life, Stierle was especially prolific, creating much of what will be seen at the Arts United Center.
“He was diagnosed with AIDS, and then it was a death sentence,” Gibbons-Brown said. “There were things he needed to say. Empyrean is really five ballets in one, but it is so cohesive. For years people were looking for the next Ballanchine, and Eddie may have been that.”
Alongside Edward Stierle in those final months was his sister Rose, just as she had been for all the years before. It was she who first brought dance into young Eddie’s life. A talented dancer in her own right, Rose was already teaching by the time she was 14.
“I’ve been in entertainment my entire life and studied tap, ballet, jazz,” said Rose. “I taught dance, and Eddie was in my first class. He was 10 years younger so he was just four when I put him in my class. He learned a lot of dance and was around it all the time and loved performing, He was so young and so cute, and being a boy he got a lot of attention.”
While Rose grew up to tour with her husband’s band, Eddie continued to develop his technical skills, attending the North Carolina School of the Arts. He’d already won one of his two Gold Medals in international dance competition by the time he was 18, performing a piece he had choreographed himself. In fact, the piece he performed to qualify for international competition was one of his own creations. His bond with Rose was special, and he shared all of his successes with her.
“I really lived vicariously through his steps,” she said. “He shared it all with me. We had a great bond. We both loved dance and the arts, and we shared it on every level.”
They continued to share right through the final days when Eddie continued his work despite his worsening condition.
“We tried to allow him to do what he wanted to do, no matter how terrible his condition was or how many T cells he had,” she recalled. “We took the emphasis off of that and focused on what was important to him. How do we get him to his rehearsals? Fortunately, all of his doctors were on the same page, and we’d take him there. I’d put him on my hip and get him on the elevator. One time he had only five T cells, and we still got him to Lincoln Center. Everyone was magnificent and pretended everything was okay. The arts community at the time provided such collective support. It was 1991, and people often had to isolate because AIDS was a diagnosis that was so quiet, so private. But everyone was there for him 110 percent. When I saw Empyrean the first time, I could see how he was flying and moving and soaring to complete his work. That’s where he was at the time.”
Rose will be in Fort Wayne for this weekend’s performances of her brother’s work, his enduring legacy. There will also be a gathering of about 40 members of the extended family, many of whom haven’t seen each other since COVID restricted travel and gatherings. She is grateful that Fort Wayne Ballet has continued to work with the Joffrey Ballet, where his work has resided for decades, and appreciates the staging of his work more than three decades after his death.
“I think it’s magnificent and am incredibly grateful to Karen for acknowledging and nurturing and appreciating the importance of his work and for knowing it should be shared. She sees the talent he showed and has said she wonders what he would have done with more time. I’m so glad she’s bringing his story to the stage.”
Rose also knows that she plays a great role in sharing his legacy and is grateful for that opportunity.
“I loved working with Eddie and dancing with Eddie,” she says. “I am so empowered by working with him and being part of his life story. I was inspired by him and have taught my daughter everything about him. I credit my parents and our family for how he was raised. We were taught to be people of service and that we aren’t above or below others but you are moving with them. I’m looking forward to us being together again to experience his work.”
For tickets to Dancers Legacy: An Evening of Stierle, call (260) 422-4226 or visit artstix.org.