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Legendary Choreographer Creates Ballet about Kansas City Jazz

Donald McKayle talks to Kansas City Ballet dancers during a recent rehearsal
Laura Spencer/KCUR
Donald McKayle talks to Kansas City Ballet dancers during a recent rehearsal

Donald McKayle describes dance as "movement that lights the soul." In a career that's spanned 60 years, the five-time Tony Award nominated choreographer has crafted the steps for modern dance, Broadway musicals, film and television.

By Laura Spencer


Kansas City, MO – Donald McKayle has also been recognized as a Master of African American Choreography at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and named one of America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures by the Dance Heritage Coalition.

Over the past year, McKayle has been delving into the history of Kansas City Jazz to create a new work for the Kansas City Ballet called Hey-Hay, Going to Kansas City. The one-act ballet features seven sections with names like 12th Street Rag, Starvation Blues, and Jumpin' at the Woodside named for musical compositions; it walks an audience through different dance steps and decades of jazz. KCUR's Laura Spencer talked to McKayle recently before rehearsals about the new work and his long career in dance.

Donald McKayle speaks Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 6:30 at the Central branch of the Kansas City Public Library, in downtown Kansas City. The work, Hey-Hay, Going to Kansas City premieres in February as part of the Kansas City Ballet's Winter Program.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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