Carmen de Lavallade

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Carmen de Lavallade
Carmen de Lavallade with her husband, Geoffrey Holder, in 1955 (photo by Carl Van Vechten)
Born (1931-03-06) March 6, 1931 (age 86)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Dancer, choreographer, actress
Years active 1948–present
Spouse(s) Geoffrey Holder (m. 1955–2014; his death)
Children 1
Family Janet Collins (cousin)

Carmen de Lavallade (born March 6, 1931) is an American actress, dancer and choreographer.


Early years[edit]

Carmen de Lavallade was born in Los Angeles, California, on March 6, 1931,[1] to black Creole parents from New Orleans, Louisiana. She was raised by her aunt, Adele, who owned one of the first African-American history bookshops on Central Avenue. De Lavallade's 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. 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. Like all of Horton's students, de Lavallade 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 musical House of Flowers (starring Pearl Bailey).[5]

In 1955, she married dancer/actor Geoffrey Holder, whom she had met while working on House of Flowers.[6] It was with Holder that de Lavallade choreographed her signature solo Come Sunday, to a black spiritual sung by Odetta (then known as Odetta Gordon). The following year, de Lavallade danced as the prima ballerina in Samson and Delilah, and Aida at the Metropolitan Opera.[7][8]

She 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. She appeared in several off-Broadway productions, including Othello and Death of a Salesman.[9] An introduction to 20th 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.[9]

De Lavallade was a principal guest performer with the Alvin Ailey 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 de Mille'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.[7]

In 2003, de Lavallade appeared in the rotating cast of the off-Broadway staged reading of Wit & Wisdom.[10] In 2010, she appeared in a one-night-only concert semi-staged reading of Evening Primrose by Stephen Sondheim.[11]

Personal life[edit]

De Lavallade had resided in New York City with her husband Geoffrey Holder until his death on October 5, 2014.[12] Their lives were the subject of the 2005 Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob documentary Carmen and Geoffrey.[13] The couple had one son, Léo. De Lavallade's brother-in-law was Boscoe Holder.[14]


In 2004 de Lavallade received the Black History Month Lifetime Achievement Award and the Rosie Award (named for Rosetta LeNoire and "given to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary accomplishment and dedication in the theatrical arts and to corporations that work to promote opportunity and diversity"),[15][16] the Bessie Award in 2006, and the Capezio Dance Award in 2007,[8][17] as well as an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the Juilliard School in 2008.[18]


  1. ^ Camille Olivia Cosby; Renee Poussaint (January 27, 2004). A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak. Atria Books. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-7434-7892-2. Retrieved October 10, 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 (January 27, 2004). A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak. Atria Books. pp. 98–99. ISBN 978-0-7434-7892-2. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  4. ^ Judy Gitenstein (August 1, 2005). Alvin Ailey. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4042-0445-4. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  5. ^ Elizabeth Blair, "At 83, Dancer Carmen De Lavallade Looks Back At A Life Spent Onstage", NPR, October 28, 20144.
  6. ^ Braswell, Kristin (May 25, 2012). "Interview: Carmen de Lavallade: the Saga Continues". Ebony. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Carmen de Lavallade profile, The HistoryMakers, December 12, 2006; accessed October 8, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Lisa Jo Sagolla, "Carmen de Lavallade Wins Capezio Award", Backstage, October 2, 2007.
  9. ^ a b "Carmen De Lavallade",; accessed October 8, 2014.
  10. ^ Reference to de Lavallade at; accessed October 7, 2014.
  11. ^ Portantiere, Michael (2011). "Back into the light". The Sondheim Review. XVII (3): 44. ISSN 1076-450X. 
  12. ^ Camille Olivia Cosby; Renee Poussaint (January 27, 2004). A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak. Atria Books. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0-7434-7892-2. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Carmen and Geoffrey (2005" at IMDb.
  14. ^ Dunning, Jennifer; McDonald, William (October 6, 2014). "Geoffrey Holder, Dancer, Choreographer and Man of Flair, Dies at 84". The New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Amas Musical Theatre benefit on Oct 25 includes concert presentation of 'RAISIN'", BroadwayWorld, October 12, 2004.
  16. ^ "‘Raisin’ to raise roof at ‘Blast’ bash – Oct. 25 event to fete Holder, De Lavallade, Wilk", Variety, October 12, 2004.
  17. ^ "Capezio Dance Foundation – Awardees" Archived May 5, 2015, at the Wayback Machine., Capezio.
  18. ^ "6 Honorary Doctorates to Be Awarded at Commencement", The Juilliard Journal, May 2008.

External links[edit]