Brian Macdonald (choreographer)

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Brian Ronald Macdonald
Born(1928-05-14)May 14, 1928
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Died November 29, 2014(2014-11-29) (aged 86)
Stratford, Ontario, Canada
Nationality Canadian
Occupation Teacher, dancer, choreographer, director
Known for Dancer, choreographer
Awards Order of Canada

Brian Ronald Macdonald, [1] CC (May 14, 1928 – November 29, 2014) was a Canadian dancer, choreographer and director of opera, theatre and musical theatre.

Order of Canada order

The Order of Canada is a Canadian national order and the second highest honour for merit in the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada. It comes second only to membership in the Order of Merit, which is the personal gift of Canada's monarch.

Canadians citizens of Canada

Canadians are people identified with the country of Canada. This connection may be residential, legal, historical or cultural. For most Canadians, several of these connections exist and are collectively the source of their being Canadian.

Theatre director person overseeing the mounting of a theatre production

A theatre director or stage director is an instructor in the theatre field who oversees and orchestrates the mounting of a theatre production by unifying various endeavours and aspects of production. The director's function is to ensure the quality and completeness of theatre production and to lead the members of the creative team into realizing their artistic vision for it. The director therefore collaborates with a team of creative individuals and other staff, coordinating research, stagecraft, costume design, props, lighting design, acting, set design, stage combat, and sound design for the production. If the production he or she is mounting is a new piece of writing or a (new) translation of a play, the director may also work with the playwright or translator. In contemporary theatre, after the playwright, the director is generally the primary visionary, making decisions on the artistic concept and interpretation of the play and its staging. Different directors occupy different places of authority and responsibility, depending on the structure and philosophy of individual theatre companies. Directors use a wide variety of techniques, philosophies, and levels of collaboration.


Early and personal life

Brian Macdonald was born in Montreal, Quebec on May 14, 1928. [2] His father Ian was Irish and worked at Dominion Glass Co. as a sales manager while his mother Mabel Lee was Scottish. Macdonald was a child actor for Radio-Canada and studied piano. [3]

Montreal City in Quebec, Canada

Montreal is the most populous municipality in the Canadian province of Quebec and the second-most populous municipality in Canada. Originally called Ville-Marie, or "City of Mary", it is named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the heart of the city. The city is centred on the Island of Montreal, which took its name from the same source as the city, and a few much smaller peripheral islands, the largest of which is Île Bizard. It has a distinct four-season continental climate with warm to hot summers and cold, snowy winters.

Irish people Ethnic group with Celtic and other roots, native to the island of Ireland, with shared history and culture

The Irish are a Celtic nation and ethnic group native to the island of Ireland, who share a common Irish ancestry, identity and culture. Ireland has been inhabited for about 12,500 years according to archaeological studies. For most of Ireland's recorded history, the Irish have been primarily a Gaelic people. Anglo-Normans conquered parts of Ireland in the 12th century, while England's 16th/17th-century (re)conquest and colonisation of Ireland brought a large number of English and Lowland Scots people to parts of the island, especially the north. Today, Ireland is made up of the Republic of Ireland and the smaller Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland hold various national identities including British, Irish, Northern Irish or some combination thereof.

Scottish people ethnic inhabitants of Scotland

The Scottish people or Scots, are a nation and ethnic group native to Scotland. Historically, they emerged from an amalgamation of two Celtic-speaking peoples, the Picts and Gaels, who founded the Kingdom of Scotland in the 9th century. Later, the neighbouring Celtic-speaking Cumbrians, as well as Germanic-speaking Anglo-Saxons and Norse, were incorporated into the Scottish nation.

In 1959 Macdonald’s first wife Olivia Wyatt died in an automobile accident. Macdonald became a single father, raising his three-year-old son. [3] Macdonald met his second wife Annette av Paul while the artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet. [4] They married in 1964. [5]

Royal Swedish Ballet

The Royal Swedish Ballet is one of the oldest ballet companies in Europe. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, King Gustav III founded the ballet in 1773 as a part of his national cultural project in response to the French and Italian dominance in this field; he also founded the Royal Swedish Opera and the Royal Dramatic Theatre. All of these were initially located in the old theatre of Bollhuset. The troupe was founded with the opening of the Royal Swedish Opera, which has served as its home since that time.

He died on November 29, 2014 in Stratford, Ontario of bone cancer. [3]

Stratford, Ontario City in Ontario, Canada

Stratford is a city on the Avon River within Perth County in southwestern Ontario, Canada, with a population of 31,465 in 2016 in a land area of 28.28 square kilometres. Stratford is the seat of Perth County which was settled by English, Irish, Scottish and German immigrants, in almost equal numbers, starting in the 1820s but primarily in the 1830s and 1840s. Most became farmers, and even today, the area around Stratford is known for mixed farming, dairying and hog production.

Professional career


MacDonald was taking a B.A. in English at McGill University when he began ballet classes with noted teachers Gerald Crevier and Elizabeth Leese. [4] From 1947-1949 he was music critic for the Montreal Herald. Macdonald joined the National Ballet of Canada in 1951 [2] and was one of its founding members. [4] He left the company in 1953 due to a serious arm injury.

National Ballet of Canada

One of the top international ballet companies, The National Ballet of Canada was founded in 1951 by Celia Franca. A company of 70 dancers with its own orchestra, the National Ballet has been led by Artistc Director Karen Kain, one of the greatest ballerinas of her generation, since 2005. Renowned for its diverse repertoire, the company performs traditional full-length classics, embraces contemporary work and encourages the creation of new ballets as well as the development of Canadian choreographers. The company’s repertoire includes works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Rudolf Nureyev, John Neumeier, William Forsythe, James Kudelka, Wayne McGregor, Alexei Ratmansky, Crystal Pite, Christopher Wheeldon, Aszure Barton, Guillaume Côté and Robert Binet. The National Ballet tours in Canada, the US and internationally with appearances in Paris, London, Moscow and St. Petersburg, Hamburg, New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Ballet choreographer

Early on in his dance training Macdonald was inspired to study choreography, affected by the Ballets Russes rehearsal of Concerto Barocco by George Balanchine in Montreal. He was struck by the way the ballerinas were dancing en pointe and in high heels. [3]

Ballets Russes

The Ballets Russes was an itinerant ballet company based in Paris that performed between 1909 and 1929 throughout Europe and on tours to North and South America. The company never performed in Russia, where the Revolution disrupted society. After its initial Paris season, the company had no formal ties there.

George Balanchine Georgian choreographer, dancer and ballet master

George Balanchine was one of the most influential 20th century choreographers. Styled as the father of American ballet, he co-founded the New York City Ballet and remained its Artistic Director for more than 35 years.

In 1956 he established his own company called the Montreal Theatre Ballet. He went on to create works for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet such as The Darkling in 1958 and Les Whoops De Doo in 1959. [4] One of his most acclaimed works was Time Out of Mind created for Joffrey Ballet in 1963. [3] He choreographed Rose Latulippe in 1966, which was Canada’s first evening-length ballet performance [4] and the first full-length colour production filmed by the Canadian Broadcasting Company. [3]

He was artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet from 1964–1967 [4] and artistic director of Harkness Ballet from 1967-1968, during which time he choreographed Canto Indio. He then moved on to become artistic director of Israel's Batsheva Dance Theatre from 1971–1972 and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens from 1974-1977, where he choreographed Tam Ti Delam in 1974 and Lignes et Pointes. In 1978 Macdonald choreographed Double Quartet [4] which features a young woman and her admirers dancing to the string quartets of Schubert and R. Murray Schafer. [6]

Macdonald’s last choreographic work was Requiem 9/11, which premiered at the National Arts Centre in 2002. The piece was Macdonald’s perspective of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, performed to Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem. [3] The ballet was danced in front of images of violent events from history. The dancers were covered in ash-looking makeup to reflect the appearance of survivors fleeing the World Trade Centre buildings. [7] The dance was well received by audience members and critics. Hugh Winsor from the Globe and Mail , who was present at the inaugural performance, wrote that the audience gave the show “an extended standing ovation.” [7]

Musical theatre choreographer and director

In 1957, Macdonald and his wife, Olivia choreographed the satirical revue My Fur Lady which went on a national tour of over 400 performances. [2] In 1968 Macdonald directed Maggie Flynn for its premiere on Broadway. [3]

Macdonald moved to Stratford, Ontario and became an associate director of the Stratford Festival. He became known for reviving Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to critical acclaim. [4] He directed The Mikado in 1982 which toured the world until it made its debut on Broadway. It earned Macdonald Tony Award nominations for Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical. Macdonald’s last directed musical at the Stratford Festival was The Music Man in 1996, [3] ending 17 seasons with the Stratford Festival. [5]


Macdonald's debut as an opera director was Cosi fan tutte by Wolfgang Mozart in 1972. This was followed by Massenet’s Cendrillon in 1979 and Madama Butterfly in 1990. [4]

His final work was a revival his 1990 staging of Madama Butterfly with the Canadian Opera Company in 2014. [5] The show was praised for the talent of the cast in their vocal abilities. [8] The show was criticised for a lack of emotional connection between the performers, with Richard Ouzounian of the Toronto Star saying, “[T]he whole thing now has that “paint by the numbers” kind of feel about it, with everyone coughing up lungfuls of emotion, but rarely connecting to each other at all in any genuine way.” [9] Robert Harris of The Globe and Mail commented that the show struggled to overcome issues of racism and prejudice that exist in the opera. [8]

Dance teacher

In 1982 Macdonald became the head of the Banff Centre’s Summer Dance Program. [1] He split the program into a training section and a professional section [10] which performed remounted works by Macdonald, George Balanchine and winners of the Clifford E Lee Choreographic Award. [4] Some of his students have included Johnny Wright, the male lead in the West End production of Dirty Dancing, and Crystal Pite. [3] He was head of the program until 2001 when he became artistic advisor from 2001-2007. [1]


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Brian Ronald Macdonald 1928-2014". The Dance Current. 2014-12-04. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  2. 1 2 3 Kelly, Deirdre (2014-11-29). "Famed Canadian director, choreographer Brian Macdonald dies". The Globe and Mail. Philip Crawley. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Kelly, Deirdre (2014-12-10). "Choreographer Brian Macdonald forever part of Canadian dance scene". The Globe and Mail. Philip Crawley. Retrieved 2015-05-17.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Crabb, Michael (2015-03-04). "Brian Macdonald". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
  5. 1 2 3 Ouzounian, Richard (2014-11-29). "Brian Macdonald leaves a fine legacy in Madama Butterfly". The Toronto Star. Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 2015-05-17.
  6. Citron, Paula (2010-04-18). "Young dancers resurrect classics". The Globe and Mail. Philip Crawley. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  7. 1 2 Winsor, Hugh (2002-09-09). "Requiem 9/11 is a natural for New York". The Globe and Mail. Philip Crawley. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  8. 1 2 Harris, Robert (2014-10-12). "COC's Madama Butterfly remains beautiful and problematic". The Globe and Mail. Philip Crawley. Retrieved 2015-05-18.
  9. Ouzounian, Richard (2014-10-11). "Madama Butterfly fails to deliver on large promise: Review". The Toronto Star. Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 2015-05-17.
  10. Crabb, Michael (2008-08-22). "A New Era, Not Unlike the Old". The Dance Current. Retrieved 2015-05-19.