Remembering Donald Bradburn, Renowned Dance Photographer, Dancer, Designer and Choreographer

September 22, 2020

Renowned dance photographer, dancer, designer and choreographer, Donald Dale Bradburn passed away on July 23 in Cedar City, Utah, after an extended illness. Don’s photos captured such dance luminaries as Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Markova, Fonteyn, Peter Martins, Cynthia Gregory and Alicia Alonso. More than 350 of his photographs appeared in Dance Magazine, where he served as the magazine’s Southern California correspondent, as well as West Coast editor for a sister magazine After Dark. In 2001, Don’s work was featured in a special exhibit at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, “Donald Bradburn: Ballet in Los Angeles—A Moment in Time.” The show was covered by the Los Angeles Times.

Born June 14, 1940, in the rural farm town of Lindsay, California, Don was only 15 years old when he first captured the images, with a simple 35mm camera, of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in a one-night-only performance in Fresno, California. Bradburn moved to Los Angeles to study ballet under Eugene Loring at Loring’s American School of Dance while majoring in theatre and design at UCLA. Said Bradburn of his early attraction to dance, “I was impressed by the spectacular visual images that appeared on stage through the synthesis of dance, design and music. A magical fantasy world existed…that immediately swept a small town country boy off his feet, and into its realm.”

He went on to become artistic director of Fresno Ballet, and co-founder and artistic director of California Ballet Theatre. He was a beloved teacher of choreography and dance history at University of California, Irvine, and CalArts, and in 1993 was invited to Russia to help found the first university dance program in the former Soviet Union.

Donald Bradburn stands on a sandy beach grinning. He is wearing bellbottom jeans, a printed shirt and his camera around his neck.
Donald Bradburn on the beach in Australia

Courtesy Karen Harris

As a dancer, Bradburn appeared in more than 40 musicals for national, stock and civic light opera companies; in acting–dancing roles in films such as Hello, Dolly!, Sweet Charity and Funny Girl; on television with Fred Astaire, Goldie Hawn and Diana Ross; and on the variety series of Glen Campbell, the Smothers Brothers and others.

He directed and choreographed concerts, opera, films, television, theater and nightclubs, directing his Don Bradburn Dancers, as well as in the showrooms of Las Vegas, Reno and Atlantic City. He became known for his celebrity headshots and portraits, as well as set and costume designs. He had been researching and writing a new book on his mentor titled Beyond Billy the Kid: A Dance Biography of Eugene Loring when he passed.

Don had a deep connection to animals, particularly his beloved bobtail cats. Although he loved to travel anywhere, his favorites were a trip to China to volunteer with baby pandas, and another to India to volunteer at a tiger preserve. He is survived by cousins Robert Martin and Richard Martin, as well as many loving friends, colleagues, students and admirers.

To help preserve Don’s legacy, please direct gifts In Memory of Donald Bradburn to the UCI Libraries Special Collections and Archives at Questions about your gift to the UCI Libraries may be directed to Angelica Simmons at (949) 824-3080 or [email protected]. —Karen Harris