Donald McKayle, recipient of honors and awards in every aspect of his illustrious career, has been named by the Dance Heritage Coalition as “one of America’s Irreplaceable Dance Treasures: the First 100.” His choreographic masterworks, considered modern dance classics, Games, Rainbow Round My Shoulder, District Storyville, and Songs of the Disinherited are performed around the world. He has choreographed over ninety works for dance companies in the United States, Canada, Israel, Europe and South America. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and the Lula Washington Dance Theatre serve as repositories for his works. He is the Artistic Mentor for the Limón Dance Company. Ten retrospectives have honored his choreography. In April 2005, Donald McKayle was honored at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and presented with a medal as a Master of African American Choreography.
In 2001, he choreographed the monumental ten-hour production of Tantalus, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in collaboration with the Denver Center Theatre Company. Five Tony Nominations have honored his choreography for Broadway musical theater: Sophisticated Ladies, Doctor Jazz, A Time for Singing, and for Raisin, which garnered the Tony Award as Best Musical, and for which he received Tony nominations for both direction and choreography. For Sophisticated Ladies he was also honored with an Outer Critics Circle Award and the NAACP Image Award. His most recent choreography for Broadway was showcased in It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, that earned a Tony nomination for Best Musical. He received an Emmy nomination for the TV Special, Free To Be You and Me. His work for film included Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Great White Hope, and The Jazz Singer. His other media awards include a Los Angeles Drama Logue Award for Evolution of the Blues and a Golden Eagle Award for On the Sound.
In dance he has received the Capezio Award, the Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award, the American Dance Guild Award, a Living Legend Award from the National Black Arts Festival, the Heritage Award from the California Dance Educators Association, two Choreographer’s Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Dance/USA Honors, an Irvine Fellowship in Dance, the Martha Hill Lifetime Achievement Award, the Annual Award from the Dance Under the Stars Choreography Festival, the Black College Dance Exchange Honors, the Dance Magazine Award, and the American Dance Legacy Institute’s Distinguished and Innovative Leadership Award. In May 2008, Cornish College of the Arts conferred an honorary Doctorate Degree on him. On May 22, 2009 the Juilliard School awarded Donald McKayle an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts. On May 20, 2011 California Institute of the Arts presented him with an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts.
For his work in education, he has earned the Balasaraswati/Joy Ann Dewey Beinecke Endowed Chair for Distinguished Teaching, UCI’s Distinguished Faculty Lectureship Award for Research, and he is a recipient of the UCI Medal, the highest honor given by the University of California, Irvine. At the University of California, Irvine he has also been awarded the title of Claire Trevor Professor in Dance, an endowed chair, and is a Bren Fellow. Mr. McKayle has served on the faculties of numerous international forums and many prestigious national institutions including the Juilliard School, Bennington College, Bard College, Sarah Lawrence College, the American Dance Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and was the Dean of the School of Dance at the California Institute of the Arts.
His autobiography, Transcending Boundaries: My Dancing Life, published by Routledge was honored with a Society of Dance History Scholar’s de la Torre Bueno Special Citation. A television documentary on his life and work, Heartbeats of a Dance Maker, was aired on PBS stations throughout the United States.