Macdonald began his performing career as a child radio actor in Montréal. Initially he hoped to be a pianist, but in 1945 began dance training with the leading Montréal teachers, Elizabeth Leese (see DANCE, MODERN) and Gerald Crevier (see BALLET). Concurrently, he took a BA degree in English at McGill University (1943-47), where he also choreographed and performed in the university's Red and White revues. He worked as music critic for The Montreal Herald (1947-49). Having attended Celia FRANCA'S first summer school in Toronto, he became an original member of the NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA but was forced to quit dancing in 1953 because of a severe arm injury. He continued his dance studies in Montréal and began choreographing for CBC-TV. In 1956 he founded the short-lived Montreal Theatre Ballet with a commitment to staging works to Canadian music. In 1957 Macdonald directed and performed in McGill's now legendary satirical revue, My Fur Lady.
In 1958 Macdonald began a continuing relationship with the ROYAL WINNIPEG BALLET, for which he choreographed many works, including The Darkling (1958), Les Whoops De Doo (1959) and in 1966 the first Canadian evening-length ballet, Rose Latulippe, to music by Canadian Harry FREEDMAN, one of Macdonald's most frequent musical collaborators. Among other notable Macdonald-Freedman collaborations are The Shining People of Leonard Cohen (1970) and Roméo et Juliette (1975).
During the 1960s and 1970s Macdonald established an international reputation choreographing for many companies. He was artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet (1964-67), where he met his second wife, the ballerina Annette AV PAUL, New York's Harkness Ballet (1967-68), Israel's Batsheva Dance Theatre (1971-72) and Les GRANDS BALLETS CANADIENS (1974-77), where he was also resident choreographer (1980-90). Among his ballets during this period were the popular Time Out of Mind (Joffrey Ballet, 1962), Canto Indio (Harkness, 1966), and for Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Tam Ti Delam to music of Gilles VIGNEAULT (1974), Lignes et Pointes with Brydon PAIGE (1976), Double Quartet (1978) to music of another favourite Canadian composer, R. Murray SCHAFER, Fête Carignan/Hangman's Reel (1978) and Adieu Robert Schumann (1979). Macdonald has also choreographed several works for Les BALLETS JAZZ DE MONTRÉAL, who celebrated this association with a special all-Macdonald "Hommage" program in Montréal in May 1995.
Although Macdonald continues to choreograph, during the 1980s he became increasingly acclaimed as a director of opera and musicals. He had directed his first opera, Mozart's Cosí fan tutte, for the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE in 1972 and had great success with a later NAC production of Massenet's Cendrillon (1979), which was subsequently staged in San Francisco, Washington, New York and Paris. From these early successes Macdonald has gone on to direct operas in Toronto, Milan, Sydney and London. His 1990 production of Madama Butterfly for the Canadian Opera Company has enjoyed wide success and frequent revivals.
As an associate director of Ontario's STRATFORD FESTIVAL, Macdonald directed 19 productions of operettas and musicals over a 16-year period. His stagings of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, many of them later televised, have had particular success, including Iolanthe, The Gondoliers, The Mikado (which toured across Canada and to London and New York) and The Pirates of Penzance. His Stratford staging of the musical Gypsy was partly inspired by the legendary stripper Lily St Cyr, whom he had known during his early days in revues and cabaret in Montréal. His recent Stratford stagings include The Boyfriend (1995) and The Music Man (1996). He has lived in Stratford for many years.
Macdonald was director of the summer dance program at the BANFF CENTRE FOR CONTINUING EDUCATION from 1982 to 2001. He successfully revamped the program to create a separate professional training stream, leading to an annual series of Banff Festival performances. These feature revivals of his own works, as well as those by other established choreographers, particularly George Balanchine, and by winners of the Clifford E. Lee Choreographic Award. From 1996 to 1998 Macdonald served as senior artistic advisor at the National Arts Centre, where he directed Benjamin Britten's opera The Prodigal Son in the summer of 1997 and restaged his production of The Mikado.
Recent television productions of his work include the 1997 Bravo! performance/documentary Lost Gods, featuring two combined ballets to the first and fifth string quartets of R. Murray Schafer. Macdonald was awarded the Paris International Gold Star for choreography in 1964 and the Molson Prize in 1983, and has been an Officer of the Order of Canada since 1967. In October 2001 he became the inaugural winner of the $50 000 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts.
Author MICHAEL CRABB
Links to Other Sites
BJM DANSE MONTRÉAL
This interactive website for the innovative BJM DANSE MONTRÉAL features an illustrated history of the company, notes about the current season's productions, and bios of the artistic team and interpretive artists.
GGPAA: Short Films
Watch a series of short films that pay tribute to numerous winners of the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards. From the National Film Board of Canada.