The dance department at UC Irvine Claire Trevor School of the Arts is presenting a concert featuring works by legendary choreographer Donald McKayle this Sunday evening, June 5, on campus. Students in the Etude Ensemble, McKayle’s repertory class, will premiere his latest piece, “Bittersweet Farewell,” and perform masterworks including “Songs of the Disinherited,” plus other recent and historical works.
McKayle is a beloved figure in the dance world and one of the most popular figures on the Irvine campus. So there was some tumult in the dance department earlier this academic year when it looked like he wouldn’t be coming back. McKayle, who I profiled three years ago for Orange Coast (“Grounded,” February 2013), retired in 2010 from full-time teaching, but has been on “recall” since then. He is 85, but choreographic ideas pour from him still and he doesn’t want to stop creating. The university, however, had notified him his recall had come to an end; when dance students heard the news, protests erupted on campus and on social media. A petition was circulated (“If Donald McKayle has impacted your career in anyway, we invite you to sign this petition in support of his reinstatement.”) and stellar figures from the dance world chimed in, including dancer and actress Carmen de Lavallade who post on Facebook: “How can you toss away a legend and deny your students the presence of a master? Students today need to learn about the past to know where they are going.”
The issue was resolved with the university provost reinstating McKayle’s recall. He’ll be back this fall, and will even have an assistant to help him. I wondered if “Bittersweet Farewell” had been made before he had received reassurance about his return? The always courteous McKayle said the title referred to another kind of goodbye: “I’ve just lost so many good friends. I was thinking of them when I made the title…. It’s dramatic piece, but it has a very lyrical movement quality. It has 10 dancers and it’s a series of pieces by different composers. I’m really happy with it.”
Donald McKayle Repertory Concert, 7 p.m., June 5, Claire Trevor Theatre, free but reservations should be made at: arts.uci.edu/event/donald-mckayle-repertory-concert
Caption information: Chad Michael Hall and Janine Montag in McKayle’s “House of Tears,” photo by Rose Eichenbaum courtesy of UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts Department of Dance