Donald Byrd: A Life In Dance

Panel with Donald Byrd, Sylvia Waters, Peter Boal, Thomas F. DeFrantz

Saturday, November 23, 2019
2:00 – 3:30 pm

Frye Auditorium

The event is currently at capacity.

In conjunction with current exhibition The America That Is To Be, Donald Byrd will be joined by his longtime associates Sylvia Waters of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Peter Boal of the Pacific Northwest Ballet to discuss Byrd’s creative inspirations and ambitions. Moderated by guest curator Thomas F. DeFrantz, this panel will offer insight to the creative process of James W. Ray Distinguished Artist Award recipient Byrd and his various successes in working within two distinguished North American cultural institutions.

About the Presenters

Donald Byrd (American, b. 1949, New London, North Carolina) 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 NewYork 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.

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.

Peter Boal is Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet and Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School. Born in Bedford, New York, he received his training at the School of American Ballet while performing children’s roles with New York City Ballet. George Balanchine invited Peter to join the company as an apprentice in 1983, and he continued to dance for NYCB until his retirement in 2005, when he moved to Seattle. He also served as a faculty member at SAB. In addition to directing PNB School, Peter teaches the Professional Division and Company. He has staged works by George Balanchine, Ulysses Dove, and Jerome Robbins for PNB, PNB School, and other companies. Peter originated a solo by Donald Byrd for Men in Dance in 2010.

Thomas F. DeFrantz is Professor of Dance at Duke University and specializes in African diaspora aesthetics, dance historiography, and the intersections of dance and technology. He is co-editor of Black Performance Theory: An Anthology of Critical Readings (with Anita Gonzalez, Duke University Press, 2014) and editor of Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance (Wisconsin University Press, 2002), which received the CHOICE award for Outstanding Academic Publication and the 2003 Errol Hill Award presenting by the American Society for Theater Research. He has published extensively, with his monograph Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey’s Embodiment of African American (Oxford University Press, 2004) receiving the 2004 de la Torre Bueno Prize for outstanding publication in Dance. He serves on various editorial boards and was recently President of the Society of Dance History Scholars (2011-2014). He has also produced and participated in many performance productions, and currently runs the research group SLIPPAGE at Duke University, a group that works to create innovative interfaces for the telling of alternative histories.

Sylvia Waters began her dance studies in junior high and earned her Bachelor of Science in Dance from The Julliard School. As a professional dancer, she toured in the European company of Black Nativity, as well as in Donald McKayle’s Black New World. She also worked with Maurice Béjart’s company in Brussels and at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. As a member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ms. Waters toured the globe as a principal dancer before shifting her focus to Ailey II when Alvin Ailey chose her to become the artistic director. She is the recipient of honorary doctorates from the State University of New York at Oswego and The Juilliard School. She has received a “Bessie” Award, the Legacy Award as part of the 20th Annual IABD Festival, Syracuse University’s Women of Distinction Award, and the prestigious Dance Magazine Award. Ms. Waters served on panels including the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Princess Grace Awards. Currently, she leads The Ailey Legacy Residency, a lecture, technique, and repertory program for college-level students that looks definitively into the history and creative heritage of Alvin Ailey. She is also a consultant to the Ailey Archives.

Donald Byrd performs in What’s Missing?, 2018. Photo © Marcia Davis


Tickets to this program are free of charge, and our seating capacity is limited. Free tickets, limit 2 per person, may be reserved in advance, up to two days before the program. The reserved tickets may be picked up on the day of the program at the desk in the foyer outside the auditorium. There is no late seating, so please arrive at least 15 minutes early.

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On the day of the program, pre-registered and standby tickets may be picked up beginning one hour before the program at the desk in the foyer outside the auditorium. All unclaimed tickets (regardless of reservations) will be released to standby 10 minutes before the program.