Alvin Ailey, Arthur Mitchell, and Misty Copeland are all names that you've probably heard, but have you heard of Geoffrey Holder? Did you know that he was married to the movie, dance, and Broadway star, Carmen de Lavallade?
This month, we'll spotlight some critically important Black artists who have shaped the dance world through their contributions on stage and on film. We'll watch some eye-opening videos to see these artist in motion and how they've influenced choreographers today. By watching these possibly lesser-know performances, we'll be able to better understand the dance world today and how it came to be.
Geoffrey Holder was a native of Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost island country in the Caribbean. He was born in 1930 and started his artistic journey when his older brother, Boscoe, began teaching him how to dance and paint.
When Geoffrey was 7, he joined his brother's dance troupe, The Holder Dancing Company. He eventually became the director and principal dancer of the company in the 1940's after Boscoe moved to England, where he also had his own notable dance career.
In 1954, Geoffrey took the company to New York City, at the invitation of Agnes de Mille. He fell in love with the Big Apple and stayed. Holder then began teaching at the Katherine Dunham School and even became a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.
As if teaching and dancing weren't enough, Holder still ran his company until it folded in 1960. Fairly early on in his time in New York, Holder was spotted by a Broadway producer who was working on a show set in the Caribbean, House of Flowers.
In 1954, Geoffrey Holder choreographed and starred alongside Carmen de Lavallade in Banda dance, a scene in House of Flowers, by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen. Holder and Lavallade fell in love and were married soon after.
In 1956, Holder performed in Carib Gold, the first cinematic appearance for both Geoffrey Holder and Cicely Tyson. The story follows the hunt for sunken treasure by shrimpers in Florida, and the movie was primarily filmed in Key West, FL. The movie also features locally-cast musicians, extras, and an integrated cast, which was progressive for the time. Carib Gold was largely forgotten, possibly because of it's small-budget production, lack of flashy Hollywood glamour, and radical choice in casting many Black dancers.
Below, you'll see Geoffrey Holder appearing in a dance scene from Carib Gold, where he performs an Afro-Cuban dance sequence. (Notice the traditional conga drums as well as the ritualistic elements of the choreography.)
Geoffrey Holder went on to Broadway, where he directed and designed costumes for The Wiz, an all black Wizard of Oz Broadway production, winning a Tony Award in 1975. He choreographed for Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and Dance Theatre of Harlem, and even appeared in the 1973 James Bond movie, Live and Let Die. Holder even narrated Tim Burton’s version of Roald Dahl’s, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Along with his contributions to the dance and film worlds, Holder was also an accomplished painter and author. He wrote a book titled, Black Gods, Green Islands, an illustrated collection of Caribbean folklore, and a cookbook titled, Geoffrey Holder's Caribbean Cookbook.
Geoffrey Holder passed away on October 5th, 2014. His wife, Carmen de Lavallade, is 89 years old.
G. William Jones Film and Video Collection, Southern Methodist University.
Turner, A. (2010). Recovering Carib Gold. Black Camera, 2(1), 58-71. doi:10.2979/blc.2010.2.1.58
Geoffrey Holder, Dancer, Actor, Painter and More, Dies at 84. The New York Times, and