Brian Macdonald, Tony-Nominated Choreographer, Dies at 86

News   Brian Macdonald, Tony-Nominated Choreographer, Dies at 86
Brian Macdonald, a Canadian choreographer who was a member of the Stratford Festival for 17 seasons, and played a role in the history of several ballet troupes, died Nov. 29 at his home in Ontario. He was 86.
Brian Macdonald
Brian Macdonald

Mr. Macdonald was born May 14, 1928, in Montreal, and began his career as a ballet dancer. He was, in 1951, a founding dancer with the National Ballet. However, his career as a dancer ended two years later when he injured his arm. He then turned to directing and choreography.

He choreographed 19 operettas and musicals at Stratford, including Cabaret, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, The Boy Friend and Gypsy. He was best known for his stagings of Gilbert and Sullivan, lending a modern, bright touch to the well-worn titles.

"Little comic dances kept creeping in when my back was turned," he told the New York Times in 1987. “I love the chance to intertwine the humor and the songs and the dances. They're very challenging to do well - to find new ways of doing them, but not to lay a directorial trip on them. I want to get inside the piece and make it fresh and alive."

On Broadway, he choreographed the short-lived 1968 musical Maggie Flynn, and both directed and choreographed a 1987 staging of The Mikado. For the latter, he was nominated for a Tony Award in both the director and choreographer categories.

His Mikado was noted for its contemporary touches, including references to Jane Fonda, Dr. Ruth, American Express and telephone pagers slipped into the lyrics. "Being on the edge of parody is something I enjoy very much, and The Mikado is a very funny piece," explained Macdonald to the Times. "I’m very fond of the chuckle in theater." Mr. Macdonald’s career led him around the world. He was artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet beginning in 1964, the Harkness Ballet in New York (1967-68), Israel’s Dance Theatre (1971-71) and Les Grands Ballet Canadiens (1974-77). He also did work at Royal Winnepeg Ballet, where he directed a production of The Darkling that helped launch his career; Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal; the National Arts Centre; and the Canadian Opera Company, where his production of Madama Butterfly has been part of the company’s repertoire since 1990.

Mr. Macdonald was a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 2008, he received Canada’s highest award for stage arts, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement.

He is survived by his wife, ballerina Annette av Paul, whom he met at the Royal Swedish Ballet in the 1960s; and by his son Wyatt.

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