Internationally respected award-winning director and choreographer for stage and television in musical theatre, opera and ballet, Brian Macdonald died on November 29, 2014.
Macdonald began his performing career as a child actor on CBC Radio and was a choreographer/dancer in the early days of CBC TV, where he directed many live variety programs. While studying for a BA in English at McGill University in Montréal, he took ballet classes with noted teachers Gerald Crevier and Elizabeth Leese and worked as music critic for the Montreal Herald (1947-1949). In 1951, he became a founding member of the National Ballet of Canada, but a severe arm injury compelled him to stop dancing in 1953, although he continued his dance training and, in 1956, founded the short-lived Montreal Theatre Ballet. In 1957, Macdonald directed the now-legendary McGill satirical review, My Fur Lady. A cross-Canada tour into 1958 included more than 400 performances in eighty-two locations, including what would become the Stratford Festival’s Avon Theatre, where many of his later productions were staged, and Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre. Macdonald’s close association in the 1950s and 1960s with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet as resident choreographer helped establish both his and the company’s international reputation. Macdonald was artistic director of The Royal Swedish Ballet in Stockholm (1964-1967), Harkness Ballet in New York (1967-1968), Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company (1971-1972), and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal (1974-1977). His last major choreography was Requiem 9/11, a personal artistic response to the destruction of the twin towers in New York set to Verdi’s Requiem, which premiered at the National Arts Centre in 2002 to mark the event’s first anniversary.
Macdonald was closely associated with dance at the Banff Centre in Alberta for more than forty-five years, as a choreographer, teacher and mentor. In 1982, he became head of the centre’s Summer Dance Program where he reorganized it into two distinct divisions, professional and non-professional. He remained head until 2001 and remained artistic advisor until 2007. His book, Dancing in Thin Air: Looking Back on Sixty Years of Dance at the Banff Centre, was published in 2007.
MacDonald was highly decorated for his efforts in dance and theatre. He was among the first recipients of the Order of Canada (1967) and was elevated to Companion in 2002. He also received the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement (2008), the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), the Canada Council Molson Prize (1983), Gold Star for Choreography, Paris International Dance Festival (1964 and 1970), Dance Canada Prize, Banff Centre National Arts Award (both 1988) and the inaugural Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts (2001).
Compiled with sources from Michael Crabb and Annette Macdonald.