This past week, the University of California, Irvine, Etude Ensemble paid tribute to Donald McKayle, with a performance of Journey of the Heart: A Celebration of Works by Donald McKayle. The renowned choreographer created the student performance group in 1995 when he was an active professor in the dance program. The tribute included audience favorites, Death and Eros (2000), Crossing the Rubicon (2017) and Songs of the Disinherited (1972).
In our September issue’s History: Lesson Plan, we learn about Bessie Schönberg, a celebrated composition teacher at Sarah Lawrence College for nearly 40 years, known for championing her students’ individuality. A revered mentor, she helped shape the creative work of four generations of artists.
Schönberg at Bennington College in 1934
Fun fact: The New York Dance and Performance Awards, which were established in 1983 to honor innovative dance work, are more commonly referred to as “The Bessies” in honor of Schönberg. She received her own Bessie Award for lifetime service to dance in 1988.
The 2016 Bessies take place Tuesday, October 18, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Howard Gilman Opera House. Among the nominees for awards in outstanding production, revival, performer, emerging choreographer, music composition/sound design and visual design are Camille A. Brown, Justin Peck, Donald McKayle, Ephrat Asherie and Gillian Murphy. Check out the full list of nominees here.
Photo courtesy of the American Dance Festival archives
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“What are you thinking about when you are dancing 'On My Way'? Do you know the word arduous? It's an arduous journey, so you have to work harder and harder." The man speaking with a soft voice and resting his long hands on his knees is Donald McKayle, the modern dance choreographer, teacher and writer known for breaking the color barrier in the '50s and '60s.
McKayle made socially conscious works—most famously Rainbow Round My Shoulder (1959) about a chain gang in the American South, which has been performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Batsheva Dance Company and others. He also performed and choreographed for Broadway musicals, television and film. A retired member of the dance faculty at University of California, Irvine, and now in a wheelchair, the 86-year-old teacher is critiquing a rehearsal at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA).
Renee Robinson and Troy Powell in Donald McKayle's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder
It’s Paul Taylor month! Not only is he featured in our March issue’s history column, but the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance’s Lincoln Center season begins on March 15. What better way to get into the Taylor spirit than to learn repertory that will be included in the company’s 2016 season?
Next Sunday, March 13, PTAMD and the American Dance Legacy Initiative will conduct a workshop on Donald McKayle’s “Rainbow Etude,” at the Taylor Studios in NYC. “Rainbow Etude” is a distilled version of McKayle’s larger work Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder, which will be performed at Lincoln Center on March 22, 24, and 26 by guest artists Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. The workshop includes class, a lecture demonstration and a screening of excerpts from a documentary about the piece.
Donald McKayle (DT, December 2003) is a choreographer and former member of the New Dance Group. His 1959 work Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder, about a prison chain gang, is regarded by many as his masterpiece.
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder
Photos from top: by Roy Volkmann, courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; by Andy Snow, courtesy of Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance
Lurching slowly forward, a homeless woman appears from the wing with her body hunched and arms extended. With ambient street sounds as the score, she traverses the stage, crawling, reaching and heaving her body. Periodically, she turns to stare at the audience. Inspired by the art of Käthe Kollwitz and a childhood memory of a poverty-stricken woman scavenging, Eve Gentry's solo, Tenant of the Street, conveys a distinct perspective about economic inequality.
This work was created in 1938 under the auspices of the New Dance Group, a modern dance collective founded six years before. It conveys the NDG's ethos but also resonates in today's political and economic climate. So much so that the Martha Graham Dance Company included it in its 2010 concert “Dance Is a Weapon." “The young artform of modern dance was empowered and validated by its alignment with political and social issues of the day," says Janet Eilber, artistic director of the MGDC. “And the NDG was really in the center of that. They were leading the charge."