TORONTO – We are proud to announce that our Opening Night Feature is this beautiful documentary about the work of two exceptional artists, Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder, who stepped forward in the 1950’s to play a vital part in the newly energized world of American modern dance. It is also about a forty-seven year long love affair and the creative partnership that sustained their accomplishments.
“I walk through doors,” Geoffrey Holder thunders in the documentary “Carmen & Geoffrey.” “If I’m not wanted in a place, there’s something wrong with the place, not with me.” And when this 6-foot-6-inch choreographer and painter, with a big toothy grin and the oratorical style of a Caribbean James Earl Jones, thunders, the earth moves.
Mr. Holder has been a fixture in the theater and dance worlds in New York City beginning with the 1954 musical “House of Flowers.” The Carmen of the title is Carmen de Lavallade, Mr. Holder’s wife and creative partner for more than 50 years. Now in her 70s, she is still a beauty.
As the film, directed by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob, follows Mr. Holder, he radiates the energy of a sun king. By his side is Ms. de Lavallade, the New Orleans-born dancer and choreographer who grew up in Los Angeles and met him when they appeared together in “House of Flowers”. They married in 1955.
Ms. de Lavallade, we learn, was the best friend and dancing partner of Alvin Ailey, who was brokenhearted when she married Mr. Holder. Carmen is also a gifted choreographer and actor but her solo dance career is legendary, both with Ailey as well as John Butler, Jose Limon, Donald McKayle and others.
Geoffrey Holder came from Trinidad to debut in House of Flowers, which he also co-choreographed with Herbert Ross. Later he directed and designed the costumes for The Wiz winning two Tonys in the process. Geoffrey’s world-class talent as a painter has been recognized with a Guggenheim fellowship and he is a prize-winning author and photographer. His ballet, Dougla is a permanent part of the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s repertoire, as is his work Prodigal Prince for the Ailey Company.
Mr. Holder recalls that from early childhood he knew he wanted to dance and to paint. He was 7 when he made his performing debut with the Holder Dance Company, a troupe founded by his older brother, Boscoe. By the time he was “discovered” in 1952, Geoffrey Holder was already an accomplished painter, and the canvases shown in the movie suggest the sensibility of an extroverted Gauguin steeped in Caribbean folklore.
After “House of Flowers” he formed his own dance company and was also a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. He reached a pinnacle of acclaim in the mid-1970s with Tony Awards for best director and costume design for “The Wiz.” The fantastic outfits bore his artistic signatures: a brilliant palette and wildly playful and inventive imagery. His later choreography on “Timbuktu!” (a 1978 Caribbean version of “Kismet”) and “The Prodigal Prince,” a dance biography of Haitian artist and voodoo priest Hector Hyppolite, reveal work that was even bolder.
The film’s style is spontaneous, intimate and revealing, showing Carmen and Geoffrey’s natural penchant for uncommon good humor.
Above all, it provides us with models of lives boldly lived, and offers a paradigm for survival and accomplishment in one of the toughest professions to which anyone can aspire.
From: Creatively Connected Through Dance and Life By STEPHEN HOLDEN Published: March 13, 2009
This movie has been designated a Critic’s Pick by the film reviewers of The Times.