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Renowned Choreographer Donald Byrd to Perform at Lehigh

Tony-nominated choreographer Donald Byrd will join with the Spectrum Dance Theater in presenting “A Rap on Race” at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9 in Baker Hall in the Zoellner Arts Center. The performance is a dance/theater work based on the iconic 1970 conversation on race between acclaimed writer James Baldwin and accomplished anthropologist Margaret Mead. It was co-created by Byrd and Pulitzer-nominated actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith.

The program is free to undergrads, and discounted graduate rates are offered to graduate students. More information can be found at https://zoellner.cas2.lehigh.edu/season/all.

Byrd will speak on “Using the Arts for Social Impact” at a free lecture at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8, in the Lower Art Gallery in Zoellner.

Christopher Burke, associate professor of psychology and co-chair of Lehigh’s MLK Committee for the 2018-19 academic year, said that Byrd’s two-day visit to Lehigh is a perfect fit for the group’s “Race-X” series.

“The original ‘rap on race’ between these two giants of 20th-century intellectual life touched on many of the ways that race plays into other societal issues, and bringing this conversation to life in the performance has the potential to really enrich our campus dialogue,” Burke said. “Byrd’s use of the arts as a vehicle for social action, which he’ll speak about on Monday, is a great example of the kind of thinking the MLK Committee likes to highlight.”

Byrd has frequently been described as a “citizen artist,” for his work that aligns with the Spectrum Dance Theater’s mission: “dance as an art form and as a social/civic instrument.” Among his recent projects with Spectrum were performances that sought, through dance, to stimulate dialogue round a post-9/11 America, a contemplation on America’s relationship with China, and another on Africa. Other Spectrum productions interpreted narratives from the Iraqi War and the Holocaust.

Byrd, whose Tony nomination came as a result of The Color Purple production, is also the winner of a Bessie Award for his choreography for The Minstrel Show. From 1978 through 2002, he was the artistic director of Donald Byrd/The Group, a critically acclaimed contemporary dance company that toured both domestically and internationally. He has created more than 100 modern and contemporary dance works with his own groups, as well as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco). He also choreographed for classical companies that included the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, the Dance Theater of Harlem, Alterballetto, MaggioDanza diFirenze and the Oregon Ballet Theater.

His work beyond the world of dance has been with prestigious theater and opera companies that include the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater, the La Jolla Playhouse, the Intiman Theater, Center Stage, the San Francisco Opera, the Seattle Opera and the New York City Opera. Among his numerous collaborators are Peter Sellars, Anne Deveare Smith and the late Max Roach.

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 the 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.

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.

His dance/theater work at Lehigh is presented by the Zoellner Arts Center and Lehigh’s MLK Committee.

More information about Byrd and the Spectrum Dance Theater can be found at https://spectrumdance.org/.

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