Toer van Schayk was born in Amsterdam in 1936. He had his first ballet lessons from Iraïl Gadeskov and then went on to train with Sonia Gaskell. He danced with Gaskell's company Nederlands Ballet from 1955 to 1959, but interrupted his dancing career to complete his training as a sculptor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in The Hague.
In 1965, he returned to dancing, joining the recently founded Dutch National Ballet, where he was greatly admired as a soloist for his expressive and moving interpretations. One of his most acclaimed roles was that of the Young Man in Rudi van Dantzig's ballet Monument for a dead boy (1965).
Van Schayk made his debut as a choreographer in 1971 with Onvoltooid verleden tijd. In 1976, he was appointed resident choreographer of the Dutch National Ballet, and created over thirty ballets in this capacity. His work shows similarities to that of Rudi van Dantzig, mainly in the combination of classical ballet and Graham techniques, and in the choice of themes, which display great social engagement.
However, Van Schayk's approach is more plastic than Van Dantzig's, using dancers as if they were moving sculptures. And the distilled, linear interplay of arms and legs often imbues his work with a graphic quality. Van Schayk's ballets are on the repertoires of several international companies.
Van Schayk is also a well-known visual artist and has held exhibitions in Amsterdam, Athens, London and New York. In addition to being Rudi van Dantzig's regular designer, Van Schayk also designs his own works and is acknowledged as one of the Netherlands' foremost set and costume designers.
In 1996, he designed the highly acclaimed sets and costumes for Nutcracker & Mouseking, which he choreographed along with former artistic director Wayne Eagling. This collaboration was repeated in 1999 for the full-length ballet Magic Flute. In the same year, he did the choreography for the musical Elisabeth, by producer Joop van den Ende. Van Schayk made his debut as a set designer with The Royal Ballet in England in 2003, with a new production of Frederick Ashton's Cinderella. He has also designed the sets for Romeo and Juliet, and more recently, in 2009, for the Dutch National Ballet's new production of Giselle.
In 2001, Van Schayk left his position as resident choreographer with the Dutch National Ballet, creating the ballet Echo's for the occasion. In 2011 he was awrded the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Benois de la Danse for his work as choreographer as well as set and costume designer.