Donald Byrd’s 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.” It continues, “Yet he does more than hop like a magpie from style to style, taking any subject matter and imagery he finds along the way that strike his fancy. His unruliness is accompanied by a love of order.” In the same article it states, “Mr. Byrd has repeatedly alluded to George Balanchine in his works. Balanchine was an unparalleled master of form. Yet he could also present haunting visions of chaos. Mr. Byrd, like him, is preoccupied with harmony and disruption.” To this point Donald Byrd is equally at home creating cool, abstract pure dance works such as his 2012 work LOVE set to the complete cello suites of Benjamin Britten and the 2011 Euclidean Space set to the music of Amon Tobin, virtuoso sound designer and influential electronic music artist; to his theatrical narrative driven pieces like the ‘carny’ Petruchska and storefront Miraculous Mandarin, his revisionist versions of iconic early 20th Century ballets. Yet he is also known for creating lovely valentines to 19th Century classical repertory including The Harlem Nutcracker (1996) and The Sleeping Beauty Notebook (2005). As well as imaginative choreographic tributes to jazz legends and composers including In A Different Light (2000) set to the lesser known piece of Duke Ellington, Burlesque (2002) created to early recordings of Louis Armstrong, and Jazz Train (1998) to commissioned scores by Vernon Reid, Geri Allen, and the late great Max Roach. These works along with The Harlem Nutcracker with its score by Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn and David Berger were critical and audience successes and toured extensively.
Mr. Byrd, a TONY nominated (The Color Purple) and Bessie Award winning (The Minstrel Show) choreographer, became Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance Theater in December 2002. From 1978 – 2002, 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 extensively, both nationally and internationally. He has created over 100 modern and contemporary dance works for his own groups as well as for the Alvin
Ailey American Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco), among others; has choreographed for classical companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, Aterballetto, MaggioDanza diFirenze, and Oregon Ballet Theater
His non-dance company work has been with some of the most prestigious theater and opera companies in the U.S., including The New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, the Intiman Theater, Center Stage, San Francisco Opera, Seattle Opera and New York City Opera. He counts among his numerous collaborators an eclectic mix of distinguished artists including Peter Sellars, Anna Deveare Smith, and the late Max Roach.
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 – “dance as an art form and as a social/ civic instrument.” One of his recent projects for Spectrum was a cycle of three evening-length works that sought, through dance, to stimulate dialogue around a post-9/11, globalized America: A Chekhovian Resolution (a personal, diary-like reflection on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict), Farewell: A Fantastical
Contemplation on America’s Relationship with China (inspired by the novel Beijing Coma from Ma Jian and the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square), and The Mother of Us All (a dense, collage like abstract meditation on contemporary Africa). Other productions for Spectrum that align to this mission are Interrupted Narratives/War (narratives from The Iraqi War) and The Theater of Needless Talents (artists victims of the Holocaust).
His many awards and prizes include a Masters of Choreography Award from The Kennedy Center; a Fellowship at The American Academy of Jerusalem; a James Baldwin Fellow of United States Artists; and the Mayor’s Arts Award for his sustained contributions to the City of Seattle. In addition, he has received numerous grants and awards from many national foundations to support his projects and productions including Rockefeller Foundation, New England Foundation, Map Fund, Jerome Foundation, Seattle Foundation, and New York Foundation for the Arts; as well as local and national government agencies including 4Culture, The Office of Arts and Culture and The National Endowment for the Arts.
Mr. Byrd has served as a Seattle Arts Commissioner, sat on many boards including Dance/USA and Dance Theater Workshop (now New York Live Arts), as well as served on numerous panels including the National Endowment for the Arts. He regularly teaches around the country and has been a Cultural Envoy for The
U.S. Department of State, and was a fellow at the Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue based at Harvard. In 2013 he and Spectrum Dance Theater toured South Asia (Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka) as part of DanceMotion/USA, a joint partnership between the State Department and The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) that presents the best of American dance to international audiences. Recently he returned from a second visit to Bangladesh where he was engaged for a month long collaboration with SHADHONA’ – A Center for the Advancement of South Asian Culture and the US Embassy in Dhaka. Currently, in addition to his work at Spectrum he serves on Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC) the nation theatrical union for professional directors and choreographers) Diversity Task Force as well as the SDC Journal–Editorial Board of the Peer Review Section. Also, he just completed his three-year term as a member of the Tony nominating committee.