Wilhelm Burmann, dance teacher, dies at 80 from coronavirus complications


NEW YORK, Apr 1 (Reuters) – Wilhelm Burmann, a teacher of the world’s best dancers for more than four decades, died at age 80 of kidney failure after his coronavirus treatment was complicated, a close friend said.

Burmann died peacefully on Monday, five days before his 81st birthday, at New York City’s Mount Sinai West hospital, where he tested positive for coronavirus, his friend Jane Haugh said.

“If there were no coronaviruses in the world, we could have been by Willy’s bed. The matter would have been simpler or reduced to his kidneys,” he told Reuters late Tuesday.

“There are many ideas on how to celebrate his life. But no one can make plans at this time,” he added.

Burmann’s classes in New York City attracted top-notch ballet stars and Broadway and contemporary dancers looking to hone the craft under his meticulous gaze.

He taught at various studios before joining Steps on Broadway in 1984, where he taught five classes per week until they were suspended on March 20 for the coronavirus outbreak.

Regular students included stars like Argentina’s Julio Bocca and Italy’s Alessandra Ferri of the American Ballet Theater, and Wendy Whelan and Maria Kowroski of the New York City Ballet (NYCB).

Burmann’s death marks the end of an era of legendary teachers like Stanley Williams, Maggie Black and David Howarden New York. The union of music and movement with a sensibility of the 21st century defined his approach.

Wilhelm Burmann, who was born in Germany in 1939, began his ballet training at age 16 in Essen. Despite his late start, he was director of the Frankfurt Ballet, Grand Theater du Genève, and Stuttgart Ballet before dancing at the NYCB for four years in the early 1970s. He was also a ballet teacher at the Washington Ballet and of the Ballet du Nord.

Tall and sharp, Burmann intimidated newcomers with simple but quick exercises, a blank face and a withering gaze. Generations of dancers challenged the toughness of their love to receive their lessons on how to transform a performance into art.

Burmann leaves his sister Chrystal Weideman in Germany and the nieces of his late 25-year-old companion, Alfonso Cata, who had been artistic director of the Ballet du Nord.

(Report by Richard Chang. Edited in Spanish by Lucila Sigal)