11/30/2014 07:22 EST | Updated 01/30/2015 05:59 EST

Brian Macdonald, Canadian choreographer, dead at 86

Famed Canadian choreographer Brian Macdonald died Saturday at his home in Stratford, Ont. He was 86. 

Macdonald was a member of the Stratford Festival company for 17 seasons, a founding dancer with the National Ballet and artistic director of the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Harkness Ballet, Israel’s Batsheva Dance Theatre and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens.

He was also a major contributor to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, the National Arts Centre, the Canadian Opera Company and the CBC.

Macdonald directed and choreographed 19 operettas and musicals for the festival, including Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe and The Gondoliers, HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. 

His other Stratford credits include Cabaret, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, The Boy Friend and Gypsy.

In the 1970s, Macdonald extended his creative reach to include opera, directing for the National Arts Centre and opera companies in Milan, Sydney and London, as well as for the Canadian Opera Company, where he staged his final production this season, Madama Butterfly.

“Brian Macdonald made an enormous contribution to the arts in Canada,” said Stratford artistic director Antoni Cimolino.‎ “He was a pioneer within our dance, opera and theatre communities, bringing an intelligence, energy and talent to work that shone on the international stage."

Contemporary approach to classics

“At Stratford, he will be especially remembered for reinventing the Gilbert and Sullivan canon. He brought an entirely new and contemporary approach to what, by the early 1980s, had become neglected classics. ‎Under his inventive direction, the updated lyrics and movement sparkled with the same creative lustre as the iconic music. The result, like Brian himself, was unforgettable.”

Macdonald is survived by his wife, ballerina Annette av Paul, whom he met at the Royal Swedish Ballet in the 1960s when he started his career as a ballet dancer.

"I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of charter member Brian MacDonald," said National Ballet of Canada's artistic director, Karen Kain. "As one of the original artists of The National Ballet of Canada, Brian was an invaluable part of the company and important to the landscape of Canadian performing arts, as both a dancer and choreographer. We mourn his passing."

A funeral will be held on Saturday, Dec. 6, in Stratford, with a memorial celebration planned for the Stratford Festival in May.