Carmen De Lavallade is a dancer, choreographer, professor and actress and has appeared as a star soloist for the Lester Horton, Alvin Ailey, and John Butler companies and as a prima ballerina for the Metropolitan Opera. Her film credits include “Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959), “Lone Star” (1996), “Big Daddy” (1999) and “The Hours” (2002). She has also appeared on and off Broadway.
De Lavallade was awarded the Black History Month Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004, and in 2006, received the Bessie Award and the Rosie Award. In 2007, she earned the Capezio Dance Award and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Juilliard.
De Lavallade has been married to Geoffrey Holder since 1955 and they live in New York City. They were the subject of the Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob documentary “Carmen and Geoffrey.” She was the cousin of Janet Collins, the first African American prima ballerina for the Metropolitan Opera.
Pupil of Horton
Childhood and Family:
Carmen De Lavallade was born on March 6, 1931, in Los Angeles, California. She was raised by her aunt Adele, who owned the Hugh Gordon Book Shop on Central Avenue. At age 14, Carmen began studying ballet with Melissa Blake and at age 16, after graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, she received a scholarship to study dance with Lester Horton. As Horton's student, she also studied other art forms, including painting, acting, music, set design and costuming. She also took private classes with Italian ballerina Carmelita Maracci and studied acting under Stella Adler.
On June 26, 1955, Carmen married actor, choreographer, director, dancer, painter, costume designer and singer Geoffrey Holder (born August 1, 1930), whom she met while they were cast members of Truman Capote's “House of Flowers.” The couple has one son named Leo Anthony Lamont.
Carmen De Lavallade began her dancing career with the renowned Lester Horton Dance Theater in 1949. She was a star soloist for the company from 1950 until 1954 when she decided to leave Los Angeles to join Alvin Ailey in New York City. During her stint with Horton's company, she also landed bit parts in several films, such as Jean Negulesco's “Lydia Bailey” (1952), “Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1953), “Demetrius and the Gladiators” (1954) and Otto Preminger's “Carmen Jones” (1954).
In collaboration with Alvin Ailey, De Lavallade made her Broadway debut in Truman Capote's “House of Flowers,” with her soon-to-be husband Geoffrey Holder. The production opened on Broadway on December 30, 1954, at the Alvin Theatre and ran for 165 performances.
In 1955, after marrying Holder, De Lavallade worked with her husband to choreograph her solo “Come Sunday.” The next year, she was a prima ballerina in “Samson and Delilah” and “Aida” at the Metropolitan Opera. She also made her television debut in John Butler's ballet “Flight.” In 1957, she appeared in the television production of Duke Ellington's “A Drum is a Woman.” De Lavallade also worked in several off-Broadway productions, including “Death of a Salesman” and “Othello.”
De Lavallade resurfaced on the big screen in the supporting role of Kittie on the Robert Wise directed “Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959), which starred Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan and Gloria Grahame. The film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Understanding. Her association with Alvin Ailey's Dance Company also continued when she served as a main guest performer on the company's tours and in some countries the company was advertised as the De Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Company. She also danced with Donald McKayle and worked in Agnes deMille's American Ballet Theater productions of “The Four Marys” and “The Frail Quarry” (both 1965). Meanwhile in the 1960s, De Lavallade sporadically appeared on television. In 1961, she appeared twice on the variety show “The Ed Sullivan Show” and starred in “Esther” (1961), an episode of the CBS series “Lamp Unto My Feet.” Three years later, she starred with Charles Anthony and Giorgio Tozzi in the TV film “L'enfance du Christ.”
In 1970, De Lavallade joined the Yale School of Drama as a choreographer and performer in residence, where she presented plays, musicals and operas before finally becoming a professor and part of the Yale Repertory Theater. In 1987, she contributed voices to the animated TV series “The Comic Strip.” The same year, she also appeared in an episode of “The Cosby Show” called “Cliff's 50th Birthday.” The following year, she played the role of Suzette in the TV film “The Trial of Standing Bear,” by director Marshall Jamison. The show starred Ivan Naranjo, George Riddle and Ray Dooley.
De Lavallade was reunited with New York City's Metropolitan Opera when she served as choreographer for “Porgy and Bess” and “Die Meistersinger” between 1990 and 1993. On television, she was cast as Madam Frosine in the NBC film “Blue Bayou” (1990), which was directed by Karen Arthur and written by Terry Louise Fisher. The cast also included Michele Adams, Elizabeth Ashley, Michael Audley, Maxwell Caulfield, Ashley Crow and Joseph Culp. In 1996, De Lavallade had a featured role in “Lone Star,” a highly applauded mystery film written and directed by John Sayles. She then played Isabelle in the NBC soap opera “Another World” in 1998 and appeared as a judge in the comedy “Big Daddy,” which starred Adam Sandler and was directed by Dennis Dugan.
In 2002, De Lavallade portrayed Chris Vincent in the comedy “The Other Brother,” starring Mekhi Phifer, Tangi Miller and Andre B. Blake, and had the small role of Meryl Streep's neighbor in the successful film adaptation of “The Hours,” directed by Stephen Daldry and scripted by David Hare. In 2003, she became part of the rotating cast of the off-Broadway stage reading of “Wit & Wisdom.” Directed by Don Amendolia, the play premiered off-Broadway in New York City and ran from March 5 to March 30, 2003. In 2004, De Lavallade starred in the short film “Stone Mansion,” which was directed by Jan Johnson and written by Ed Shockley. In 2009, she played the recurring role of Dolores in the Lifetime comedy series “Sherri,” starring Sherri Shepherd.
Capezio Dance Award: 2007
Rosie Award: 2006
Bessie Award: 2006
Black History Month Lifetime Achievement Award: 2004