After dancing professionally, Byrd discovered a love of choreography — and problem-solving with all the teams at the Seattle-based SDT.

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Donald Byrd

What do you do? I am the executive artistic director of Spectrum Dance Theater and its chief choreographer. My job is to provide vision for the organization and devise plans, strategies and actions that lead to the successful realization of that vision, as well as create programs and choreographies that reflect its mission.

How did you get started in that field? I was a dancer first, as most artistic directors and choreographers have been. Since I was a child, I have loved dancing. I grew up watching old movie musicals and TV variety shows, and the dancing always captured my attention. When I was 16, I saw two dancers from New York City Ballet, Edward Villella and Patricia McBride, dance — and a whole new world of dance (ballet) opened up to me. Soon after, I began studying ballet and contemporary dance. A bit later, I saw the Alvin Ailey company perform, and that was the moment where I knew that a life in dance is what I wanted.

Jumping ahead, I began dancing professionally and feeling happy and fulfilled by it. On a dare, I began to choreograph and discovered I loved it — really loved it. Two years later, I formed my first dance company which lasted for 24 years. After its closure in 2002, I took the job at Spectrum Dance Theater.

What’s a typical day like? Because my job entails management and administrative responsibilities as well as artistic ones, I really have to compartmentalize my day. From 7:30–11:15 a.m. is mostly devoted to admin work. Starting at 11:45 a.m., I have rehearsals with the dance company until 4:30 p.m. Then I have meetings up until 6 p.m., followed by my teaching the pre-professional students of The School of Spectrum Dance Theater. My Spectrum day is typically officially done 8:30 p.m., unless there are performances — then, not until about 10:30 p.m.

What surprises people about what you do? Perhaps, that I have to think about it in order to do it. They usually are not aware of the amount of consideration it takes to do it.

What’s the best part of the job? The best part of my job is problem-solving with the various teams and people who make up Spectrum. Whether it is with the dancers of The Company, marketing, finance, The School or the production team – I love it. That does not mean it is free of headaches, but it is a great satisfaction to engage with a challenge and with a great team to come up with solutions.

In November, I spent a long weekend in New York seeing some very important work and listening to some smart, articulate people. At the center were two events sponsored and presented by Danspace Project. [One was] Platform 2016: Variations on Themes from Lost and Found: Scenes from a Life and other works by John Bernd. John Bernd was a choreographer/dancer who died at age 35 from complications of AIDS. He and I traveled in the same circles, and his work had always intrigued me. [The other was] Platform 2016: Modern Mondays – An Evening with Ishmael Houston-Jones and Dennis Cooper (MoMA), where Houston-Jones, a choreographer and the curator of Platform 2016, and Cooper, a writer, discussed their 30-plus years of friendship and collaborations.

A third event was a panel, “Race, Equity, and Otherness in Ballet and Society,” at the annual Festival Albertine, curated by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which explored the changing nature of identity and how the arts interrogate our national, social and cultural labels today in France and the U.S. The panel was a conversation moderated by Jennifer Homans (director of the Center for Ballet and the Arts, NYU), with Benjamin Millepied (director of LA Dance Project and former director of The Paris Opera Ballet) and Virginia Johnson (director of Dance Theater of Harlem). … It was a glorious weekend.

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