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Donald Byrd, Art, and Fortitude

Throughout his long career, choreographer Donald Byrd has faced a multitude of challenges - everything from making a living as an artist and funding a dance company to enduring America's entrenched racism. Covid-19 presented Byrd with a different challenge: how to make performances for audiences who couldn't gather to watch them in person. Byrd talked to Vivian and Marcie about his inherent need to pick himself up and keep going, no matter what life throws in his path. It's a lesson in resilience he learned from his grandmother.

"It's a cliche sometimes, but if you're knocked down, get up. Get up! Don't lie there!" -- Donald Byrd

Spectrum Dance Theatre company members in Donald Byrd's "Minstrel Show," 2015 Seattle revival. Photo courtesy SDT.

Donald Byrd by Gabriel Bienczycki


Donald Byrd is a Tony-nominated (The Color Purple) and Bessie Award-winning (The Minstrel Show) choreographer. He has been the Artistic Director of Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle 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. He has created dance works for many leading companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, and Dance Theater of Harlem, among others, and worked extensively in theater and opera.

His 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. He was recently named a 2019 Doris Duke Artist Awardee.

Donald Byrd received the 2016 James W. Ray Distinguished Artist Award, which is 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 and culminates in a presentation at the Frye Art Museum.

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