Donald Byrd has been the Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance Theater since December 2002. Formerly, he was Artistic Director of Donald Byrd/The Group, a critically acclaimed contemporary dance company, founded in Los Angeles and later based in New York, that toured both nationally and internationally. His career has been long and complex, and his choreographic and theatrical interests are broad. The New York Times describes him as “a choreographer with multiple personalities … an unabashed eclectic.” He is a Tony-nominated (The Color Purple) and Bessie Award-winning (The Minstrel Show) choreographer.
Mr. Byrd has frequently been referred to as a ‘citizen artist,’ a descriptive that perfectly aligns with an important component of Spectrum Dance Theater’s mission and Mr. Byrd’s personal beliefs – “dance as an art form and as a social/ civic instrument.”
Early projects that were the beginnings of his citizen artist work at Spectrum are Interrupted Narratives/WAR (2007), a critique on the War in Iraq, and The Theater of Needless Talents (2008), a memorial to the artist victims of the Holocaust. Mr. Byrd’s early repertoire also includes three evening-length works that sought, through dance, to stimulate dialogue around a post-9/11, globalized America: A Chekhovian Resolution (2008), a personal, diary-like reflection on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; Farewell: A Fantastical Contemplation on America’s Relationship with China (2008), inspired by the novel Beijing Coma from Ma Jian and the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square; and The Mother of Us Al (2010)l a dense, collage-like abstract meditation on contemporary Africa.
Spectrum’s recent seasons, conceived, choreographed, and directed by Mr. Byrd, are a testament to his commitment to art as a Credible Partner of Social Justice:
- Season 2015/16 #RACEish – An Exploration of America’s 240 Years of (failed) Race Relations
- Season 2016/17 AMERICAN – IDENTITY, RACE, CULTURE?
- Season 2017/18 Bringing It Home – DANCING TOWARDS A MORE JUST AND EQUITABLE AMERICA
- Season 2018-19 WOKE???
- Season 2019/20 Race and Climate Change,
He continues to demonstrate this by creating dance/theater that is meant to question, to create awareness, to activate, and to move audiences & citizens into action around the persistent social issues that plague contemporary American society and the world: racism and white supremacy, climate change and the climate gap, gender equality, gender identity biases, xenophobia, and police brutality.
Throughout the 40+ years of his choreographic career, Mr. Byrd has created over 100 works for his companies as well as works for many leading classical and contemporary companies. This list includes Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, The Joffrey Ballet, The Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco), Dance Theater of Harlem, and many others. He has worked extensively in theater and opera, both in America and abroad, including Seattle Opera, San Francisco Opera, The Israeli Opera, New York City Opera, The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, Intiman Theatre, and Baltimore Center Stage.
Mr. Byrd’s many awards, prizes, and fellowships include the Doris Duke Artist Award; Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, Cornish College of the Arts; Masters of Choreography Award, The Kennedy Center; Fellow at The American Academy of Jerusalem; James Baldwin Fellow of United States Artists; Resident Fellow of The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center; Fellow at the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue, Harvard University; and the Mayor’s Arts Award for his sustained contributions to the City of Seattle.
A high point of Mr. Byrd’s career was a solo museum exhibition Donald Byrd: The America That Is To Be, at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle in 2019. It was the culmination of his 2016 James W. Ray Distinguished Artist Award, which was funded by the Raynier Institute & Foundation through the Frye Art Museum | Artist Trust Consortium. The award supports and advances the creative work of outstanding artists living and working in Washington State.