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February 2021

In honor of Black History Month, SDC has selected to highlight the contributions of three individuals with ties to Seattle who have left an unmistakable mark on the dance world: Syvilla Fort, Kabby Mitchell III and Donald Byrd. For a fascinating look at the broad history of Black artists in ballet check out The Constellation Project.


Syvilla Fort (1940) © Ernst Kassowitz

Syvilla Fort was a Seattle native born in 1917. As a young girl she was turned away from ballet studios due to the color of her skin, but her mother found willing teachers to give her daughter private lessons. As one of the first Black students to attend The Cornish School (now Cornish College of the Arts), Ms. Fort danced alongside the young Merce Cunningham and collaborated with composer John Cage. Her professional career was launched after joining the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and Ms. Fort went on to become a treasured and sought-after dance educator in New York for the duration of her life.


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Kabby Mitchell III grew up in Oakland, California and was lured to Seattle in 1979 by Ewajo Dance Workshop founder Edna Daigre. That same year Mr. Mitchell was invited to join Pacific Northwest Ballet and became thecompany’s first Black dancer, rising to soloistbefore leaving in 1984. He went on to performat Dance Theater of Harlem and NederlandsDans Theater, among others, but Seattlealways remained his home. Over the decades, Mr. Mitchell left a remarkable legacy ofinspiration as a choreographer, communityarts advocate and beloved teacher. He was a faculty member at Evergreen College for nearly 20 years and received the Mayor's Cultural Ambassador Award from the City of Seattle in 2016. 


Kabby Mitchell (1981) ©Jim Cummins

Just two months after his passing in 2017, the Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center opened; a passion project he co-founded to provide dance training to underserved youth.


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Donald Byrd (1983) ©Johan Elbers

Donald Byrd is a prolific, award- winning choreographer, whose more than 100 works have toured both nationally and internationally over the course of his 40+ year career. Widely recognized for his dedicated focus to use dance as a tool for social change, Mr.Byrd has created work for a broad range of companies in the fields of dance, opera and theater, including such groups as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet and San Francisco Opera. Among other honors, he garnered a Tony award nomination for choreography in the broadway production of

The Color Purple. The first half of his career was primarily spent in New York with his own company, Donald Byrd/The Group. In 2002 Mr. Byrd moved to Seattle to take over the reins of Spectrum Dance Theater, transforming it into a nationally recognized contemporary dance company from where he continues his creative output today.


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