Donald Byrd, choreographer, theater artist, artistic director of the New York-based Donald Byrd/The Group from 1978-2002, and creator of memorable works including the highly celebrated “The Harlem Nutcracker,” is one of six recipients of the 2019 Doris Duke Artist Awards.
This award comes with a $275,000 prize: $250,000 of which is unrestricted; the remaining $25,000 is intended to encourage savings for retirement or later life needs.
Since leaving New York in 2002, Byrd became the artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater, and remains in that position today. Says Byrd about receiving the award, “When I found out that I received the award, I was speechless. The most striking thing is that the decision was made by my peers—and that moved me.” Byrd moved from New York to Seattle, which he says “…feels like it’s on the edge of the world, I thought nobody knows or even cares, so this means a lot; I am grateful.”
Byrd has created more than 100 dance works for his company, but also for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadelphia Dance Company, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem and others. He won a 1992 New York Dance & Performance Award (aka “The Bessies”) for choreographing his very edgy “The Minstrel Show” for Donald Byrd/The Group in 1991, and earned a 2006 Tony Award nomination for choreographing “The Color Purple.”
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation notes that this award is designed as “an investment in and celebration of these artists’ ongoing contributions to the fields of contemporary dance, jazz and theater.” The other recipient in the dance category is Michelle Ellsworth of Boulder, Colorado. In the other categories, the recipients are: Terri Lyne Carrington and George Lewis (Jazz); Marcus Gardley and Lauren Yee (Theater). Maurine Knighton, program director for the arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation adds, “[T]he 2019 Doris Duke Artists…have earned this recognition through an incredibly rigorous nomination and review process conducted by a body of their peers. The work of these six artists has inspired creativity, new ideas and awe across the arts sector and beyond. With the money from this award, they will be able to invest in their own well-being in ways that create the right conditions for them to continue to flourish and do their best work.”