The Minstrel Show Revisited, which runs at NYU Skirball Center Oct. 28-30, interrogates and critiques the 19th Century black-faced entertainment genre whose legacy is still felt today and continues to play a significant role in cultural stereotyping.
The work addresses current racial issues while shining the light on racist aspects of American history that are difficult to discuss. By using the conventions of the 19th Century Minstrel Show, including the once common tradition of “black face,” Byrd and his remarkable dancers confront audiences with the past and present manifestations of racism and perpetuation of stereotypes embedded in American culture and tradition.
The black-faced mask of minstrel shows is a lingering image from America’s past that still inflicts wounds today through its psychic hold…In the future if we are to be free from its terrible grip we must confront it boldly and courageously by staring back into its face and laughing at the absurdity of its representation until it no longer has the power to hurt us. Only then will it be vanquished and we are free to be. —Donald Byrd
Donald Byrd’s work as a choreographer achieved international visibility with the creation of the Harlem Nutcracker and a Tony Award nomination for his 2006 choreography of Broadway’s The Color Purple. He has created more than 80 modern dance pieces for his own groups as well as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and The Joffrey Ballet. He was a fellow at The Institute on the Arts and Civic Dialogue at Harvard University for three years. His unbounded appetite to explore the arts has fueled his artistic vision for Spectrum Dance Theater since 2002 and has evolved the company into one of regional and national significance.
Artist’s Website: Spectrum Dance Theater
Artist’s Blog: Donald Byrd
Program Guide: The Minstrel Show Program Guide
The program guide was written for, and originally published in, the program for 1991’s The Minstrel Show. It includes an essay, Wrestling with our Responses, by Scott deLahunta.
Review: From Vaudeville to the Streets (ArtsJournal blog: DanceBeat)
“Eleven dancers take the stage at NYU Skirball Center in Donald Byrd’s The Minstrel Show Revisited.They’re strutting, prancing, raising white-gloved hands. How come I don’t recognize any faces? I can hardly tell which are women and which are men. Byrd has already made a point about racial prejudice; it may change its forms over the years, but it doesn’t vanish.”—Deborah November 2, 2015
Review: Donald Byrd: The Minstrel Show Revisited (TimeOut New York)
“In 1991, choreographer Donald Byrd’sThe Minstrel Show was daring. Is it still? Daring yes; riveting—less so.” —Helen Shaw, October 30, 2015
Review: Donald Byrd and Spectrum Dance Theater – The Minstrel Show Revisited – New York (DanceTabs)
“With the onslaught of cases of unarmed black men being killed by the police, the comforting illusion that racism in America was on the wane has been shattered” —Marina Harss, November 1, 2015
Feature Article: Tap Routine: Donald Byrd Considers the Evolution of Minstrelsy (The New Yorker) “Minstrel shows seem even more deplorable in that they began as the creation of white people, performing in blackface and with big, woolly wigs. But such shows were also hugely popular with black people, who were soon producing their own versions, in which they, too, corked up and put on fuzzy wigs” —Joan Acocella, November 2, 2015
Review: Equal Opportunity Racism in The Minstrel Show Revisited (City Arts Magazine)
“Regardless of prior “exposure” to blackface—via movies, pictures, books, TV shows, or otherwise—watching a group of performers painted and costumed to emulate a horrific, archaic form of racism is unsettling, emotional and thought–provoking. The Minstrel Show Revisited (a restaged version of choreographer and Spectrum Dance Theater artistic director Donald Byrd’s Bessie Award-winning 1991 work The Minstrel Show) does just that, and more.” —Rachel Gallaher, February 24, 2014
Review: Spectrum Unpacks Racism ( SeattleDances)
“…despite the “riskiness” of this topic, Donald Byrd and Spectrum Dance Theater boldly unpacked the history and the current state of race relations in America with poignant poeticism in The Minstrel Show Revisited” —Imana Gunawan, February 26, 2014
Preview Article: How Trayvon Martin brought a dance work back to new life in Seattle (Crosscut)
“I think people who come are the ones who want to be challenged. They want to be shaped a bit.” —Donald Byrd in an interview by Florangela Davila, February 20, 2014
Preview Article: Choreographer Uses Blackface To Confront Racial Attitudes Past And Present (KUOW)
“The subject that incensed Byrd’s audience was race and how it’s viewed in American popular culture. Byrd has appropriated the 19th century minstrel show format, which he sees as a precursor to today’s variety and sketch comedy shows.” —Marcie Sillman, February 20, 2014
Preview Article: Minstrel Show Update Revisits Race Conversation (SeattleDances)
“Byrd is an artist who thrives on opening dialogue about difficult, uncomfortable topics. Race is a prime example.” —Anna Waller February 19, 2014
Preview Article: Spring Arts: The Button-Pusher, Donald Byrd (Seattle Weekly)
“The Minstrel Show Revisited takes an unflinching view of a difficult part of our performance history, making us squirm and smile at the same time.” —Sandra Kurtz February 11, 2014
Review: A Message For Today In Blackface (New York Times)
“Donald Byrd choreographically examined this theatrical form in The Minstrel Show, the witty and provocative new work that Donald Byrd/ The Group presented on Wednesday night at the Bessie Schonberg Theater” —Jack Anderson November 9, 1991
Review: A ‘Hot Time’ at Intriguing Minstrel Show : Dance: Choreographer Donald Byrd and The Group remind a sometimes uneasy audience that the tradition of racism through entertainment is alive and well. (L.A Times) —Frankie Wright January 27, 1992
Article: Stomping on Eggshells: An Honest Discussion of Race, Identity, and Intent in the American Theater
Spurred by the controversies over the new adaptation of The Jungle Book that opened this summer in Chicago, this series of articles explores who is allowed to tell whose stories onstage. This series is curated by Rebecca Stevens, the Chicago Commons Producer for HowlRound.
Pre- and Post-Show Talks on NYU Skirball YouTube
Pre-Show Lobby Talk October 28 at 6:30pm
From Representation to Reality: Blackface Minstrelsy in Past and Present: Join us before the performance for a pre-show lobby talk and Q&A with Matthew Morrison, Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow at Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music in Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
This pre-show discussion will give a brief history of the first original form of popular entertainment in the U.S., Blackface Minstrelsy, and how this performance style has continued to impact American popular entertainment, identity, and culture into the present day.
Join us directly after performance for a post-show discussion and Q&A with Arielle Andrews, President of the Black Student Union at NYU, in conversation with Donald Byrd.
From Minstrelsy to Miley Cyrus: A Round Trip: Join us before the performance for a pre-show lobby talk and Q&A with Daniel Charnas, Associate Arts Professor at Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music in Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.
Join us directly after performance for a post-show discussion and Q&A with Deborah Jowitt, Master Teacher in Dance at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, in conversation with Donald Byrd.
Join us before the performance for a pre-show lobby talk and Q&A with Awam Amkpa, Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU.
Join us directly after performance for a post-show discussion and Q&A with Kwami Coleman, Assistant Professor and Faculty Fellow in Gallatin School at NYU, in conversation with Donald Byrd