Carmen and Geoffrey (Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder)

By Alix Cohen

A 2005 Documentary Directed by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob

New to Broadway HD . . .

Dancer/Choreographer Carmen de Lavallade (1931-) and Dancer/Choreographer/Director/ Artist/Designer Geoffrey Holder (1930-2014) had been married almost 5 decades when this documentary was made.  The beautiful Los Angeles native with hair to her waist met the 6’6” Trinidadian in 1954 when she and dear friend Alvin Ailey walked in the door of a New York rehearsal studio to audition for Broadway’s House of Flowers. Holder immediately thought, “I’m gonna marry that girl.” He proposed four days later, they wed a month after that. Asked by critic John Lahr how he kept his self-avowed muse, Holder said, “Carmen de Lavallade is not Mrs. Holder, she’s Carmen de Lavallade. Mrs. Holder is my mother.”

This film is a love story extolling the respective and collaborative creative output of two extraordinary artists.  Both started dancing young. De Lavallade, already a soloist, came to New York at the invitation of Director Herbert Ross; Holder, who had his own company, was invited by Agnes de Mille.

Interviews are current (to 2005). Photos and film – including rehearsal, performance, sketching (costumes) and painting, cover from first flush through late middle age. Critic Jennifer Dunning notes that during the 50s, black choreographers were coming into their own, but even with that they both made a splash. The couple talk about fellow creators and each other.

Reflecting on John Butler’s choreography for Portrait of Billie (Holiday), De Lavallade recalls “He’d have you twisted up into the darndest things.” It’s beautiful. She was a stunning dancer. We watch her in half a dozen pieces including Ailey’s iconic Revelations and Joe Layton’s Porgy and Bess.  Stepping back mid-painting, Holder, referring to a nude’s rear says, “I love buns, I just adore buns. They’re so slapable.” (he laughs.) De Lavallade says of her husband, “He wants to play all the time.”

Talking about the 1977 Broadway musical of The Wizard of Oz which Holder Directed, Choreographed and Designed, he comments “You can’t top the movie, that’s for sure. I said, “Let’s call it The Wiz.” Costumes are like nothing we’ve ever seen for the piece. When spirits were low out of town, the director used his own money to throw a Kentucky Fried Chicken and rum party bringing the company together. “Everybody knows the story. How do you surprise people? He did.” (son Leo Holder) Holder Sr. won the Tony for Best Director that year. “Geoffrey’s Broadway work is big, expensive and loud, like him,” De Lavallade remarks.

“He ‘s outrageous, larger than life,” Dunning observes, “She was serene and quiet.”

Watching DeLavallade choreograph is evocative. The dancer’s body stayed lithe and flexible. Verbal shorthand and demonstration work hand in hand. “Choreography is painful, like directing. Where does it come from?” she says. We see an art exhibition of Holder’s work and watch him stroll Paris. The family lived there for a time. Josephine Baker sings as a young De Lavallade dances on stage. There were parties in the sixties. Holder continued to go back alone every year to refuel…

The film is a pleasure. www.BroadwayHD.com

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