Carmen De Lavallade

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Carmen De Lavallade
De Lavallade with husband Geoffrey Holder in 1955 (photo by Carl Van Vechten)
Born (1931-03-06) March 6, 1931 (age 83)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Dancer, choreographer, actress
Years active 1948–present
Spouse(s) Geoffrey Holder (1955-present)

Carmen De Lavallade (born March 6, 1931) is a dancer, choreographer, professor and stage and film actress.


Early Years[edit]

Carmen De Lavallade was born in Los Angeles, California, on March 6, 1931,[1] to Creole parents from New Orleans, Louisiana. She was raised by her aunt, who owned one of the first African-American history bookshops on Central Avenue. Her cousin, Janet Collins, was the first African-American prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera.[2][3] De Lavallade began studying ballet with Melissa Blake at the age of 16 and after graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles was awarded a scholarship to study dance with Lester Horton.[4]


De Lavallade became a member of the Lester Horton Dance Theater in 1949 where she danced as a lead dancer until her departure for New York City with Alvin Ailey in 1954. De Lavallade, like all of Horton's students, studied other art forms, including painting, acting, music, set design and costuming, as well as ballet and other forms of modern and ethnic dance. She studied dancing with ballerina Carmelita Maracci and acting with Stella Adler. In 1954, De Lavallade made her Broadway debut partnered with Alvin Ailey in Truman Capote's House of Flowers.

In 1955, she married dancer and actor Geoffrey Holder, whom she had met while working on House of Flowers.[5] It was with Holder that De Lavallade choreographed her signature solo Come Sunday, to a black spiritual sung by Odetta Gordon. The following year, De Lavallade danced as the prima ballerina in Samson and Delilah, and Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. She also made her television debut in John Butler's ballet Flight, and in 1957 she appeared in the television production of Duke Ellington's A Drum Is a Woman. De Lavallade also appeared in several off-Broadway productions, including Othello and Death of a Salesman. An introduction to Twentieth Century Fox executives by Lena Horne led to more acting roles between 1952 and 1955. She appeared in several films including Carmen Jones (1954) with Dorothy Dandridge and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) with Harry Belafonte.

De Lavallade was a principal guest performer with Alvin Ailey's Dance Company on the company's tour of Asia and in some countries the company was billed as De Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Company. Other performances included dancing with Donald McKayle and appearing in Agnes DeMille's American Ballet Theatre productions of The Four Marys and The Frail Quarry in 1965. She joined the Yale School of Drama as a choreographer and performer-in-residence in 1970. She staged musicals, plays and operas, and eventually became a professor and member of the Yale Repertory Theater. Between 1990 and 1993, De Lavallade returned to the Metropolitan Opera as choreographer for Porgy and Bess and Die Meistersinger.

In 2003 she appeared in the rotating cast of the off-Broadway staged reading of Wit & Wisdom.[6] In 2010, she appeared in a one-night-only concert semi-staged reading of Evening Primrose by Stephen Sondheim.[7] In 2012, she was part of the cast of the Broadway revival of Streetcar Named Desire, playing the Mexican Woman and neighbor characters.

Personal life[edit]

De Lavallade resides in New York City with her husband, Geoffrey Holder.[8] Their lives were the subject of the Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob documentary Carmen and Geoffrey.

In 2004, De Lavallade received the Black History Month Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rosie Award and the Bessie Award in 2006 and the Capezio Dance Award (in 2007), as well as an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Juilliard in 2007.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Camille Olivia Cosby; Renee Poussaint (27 January 2004). A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak. Atria Books. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-7434-7892-2. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  2. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (May 31, 2003). "Janet Collins, 86; Ballerina Was First Black Artist at Met Opera". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  3. ^ Camille Olivia Cosby; Renee Poussaint (27 January 2004). A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak. Atria Books. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-0-7434-7892-2. Retrieved 10 October 2012. 
  4. ^ Judy Gitenstein (1 August 2005). Alvin Ailey. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4042-0445-4. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  5. ^ Braswell, Kristin (May 25, 2012). "Interview: Carmen de Lavallade: the Saga Continues". Ebony (magazine). Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Portantiere, Michael (2011). "Back into the light". The Sondheim Review (Sondheim Review, Inc.) XVII (3): 44. ISSN 1076-450X. 
  8. ^ Camille Olivia Cosby; Renee Poussaint (27 January 2004). A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak. Atria Books. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0-7434-7892-2. Retrieved 10 October 2012.