Donald McKayle’s 1959 masterwork, Rainbow Round My Shoulder, is acclaimed as a modern dance classic. A searing dramatic narrative, it is set on a chain gang in the American south where prisoners work, breaking rock from “can see to can’t see.” Their aspirations for freedom come in the guise of a woman, first as a vision then as a remembered sweetheart, mother, and wife. The songs that accompany their arduous labor are rich in polyphony and tell a bitter, sardonic, and tragic story. It was created for the Donald McKayle Dance Company, and has been in the repertoire of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Batsheva Dance Company and Dayton Contemporary Dance, among others. The cast in the video excerpt includes Donald McKayle and Mary Hinkson.
Rainbow Round My Shoulder- Donald McKayle with Mary Hinkson
Donald McKayle was on born July 6, 1930 in New York City. He studied and worked with many modern dance icons including Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey, Anna Sokolow and Merce Cunningham. He is a best known for creating socially conscious concert dance works during the 1950s and 60s that focus on expressing the human condition and more specifically, the black experience in America. His talents extend beyond the concert stage as McKayle has also performed and choreographed for Broadway musicals, theatre, television, and film. As an educator he has served on the faculties of Connecticut College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Bennington College. McKayle was nominated for Tony Awards for Golden Boy (1964), Raisin (1973), Doctor Jazz (1975) and Sophisticated Ladies (1981). He is currently a Professor of Dance, Modern Technique and Choreography, at UC Irvine, in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts Dance Department.