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Carmen De Lavallade

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Information about Carmen De Lavallade

Profile image of Carmen De Lavallade

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
EntertainmentMakers
Occupation(s):
Choreographer
Actress
Dancer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Warm Colors
Favorite Food:
Berries, Fish
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall, Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
3/6/1931
Birth Location:
Los Angeles, California

Profession

Category:
ArtMakers
EntertainmentMakers
Occupation(s):
Choreographer
Actress
Dancer

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Warm Colors
Favorite Food:
Berries, Fish
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall, Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
3/6/1931
Birth Location:
Los Angeles
See how Carmen De Lavallade is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Dance luminary Carmen De Lavallade was born on March 6, 1931, to Grace Grenot and Leo Paul De Lavallade in Los Angeles, California. There, her aunt, Adele De Lavallade, owned the Hugh Gordon Book Shop, 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 in New York City. De Lavallade discovered her talent for dance early. In 1945, she began studying ballet with Melissa Blake, and at the age of sixteen, upon graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School, she was awarded a scholarship to study dance with the renowned Lester Horton.

In 1949, De Lavallade became a member of the celebrated Lester Horton Dance Theater, where from 1950 to 1954, she enjoyed the status of lead dancer. During this time, De Lavallade continued to study dance, becoming proficient in ballet and other forms of modern and ethnic dance. Lester Horton insisted that she study other art forms, including painting, acting, music, set design and costuming. De Lavallade began studying ballet privately with Italian ballerina Carmelita Maracci and later acting with Stella Adler. In 1954, De Lavallade made her Broadway debut in House of Flowers, and that same year, Alvin Ailey, the founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, moved to New York City to partner with her in that production.

During that engagement in 1955, De Lavallade met and married dancer and actor Geoffrey Holder. With Holder, she completed her signature solo, Come Sunday, which he suggested choreographing to a black spiritual, sung by Odetta Gordon. In 1956, De Lavallade danced as the prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera performances of Samson and Delilah, and Aida. Also in 1956, 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. In pursuit of an acting, Lena Horne introduced her to the executives at Twentieth Century Fox, and between 1952 and 1955, she appeared in several films, including Carmen Jones with Dorothy Dandridge. In 1959, she starred in Odds Against Tomorrow with Harry Belafonte. De Lavallade also appeared in several off-Broadway productions, including Othello and Death of a Salesman.

By the early 1960s, De Lavallade was a principal guest performer with Alvin Ailey’s company and on the company's first European tour in 1962, the billing was De Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Company. In 1964, she danced with Donald McKayle and in 1965 appeared in Agnes deMille’s American Ballet Theater productions of The Four Marys and The Frail Quarry. In 1970, De Lavallade joined the prestigious Yale School of Drama as a choreographer and performer-in-residence. She staged musicals, plays and operas, and later 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 2004, De Lavallade received the Black History Month Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rosie Award and the Bessie Award in 2006.

De Lavallade resides in New York City with her husband, Geoffrey Holder.

De Lavallade was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 12, 2006.

See how Carmen De Lavallade is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Carmen De Lavallade's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Carmen De Lavallade lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her mother's family background, pt. 1
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her mother's family background, pt. 2
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls the impact of her mother's illness
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls her paternal family's move to Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls being raised by her father in Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers St. Martha's Church in Vernon, California
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers her childhood holidays
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her cousin, ballerina Janet Collins
  • Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls Janet Collins' early ballet career
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers Janet Collins' duet with Talley Beatty
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Carmen De Lavallade talks about her cousin, Alma Collins
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls Vernon City Elementary School in Vernon, California
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls her activities at Vernon City Elementary School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Carmen De Lavallade describes the demographics of Vernon City Elementary School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers her early interest in dancing
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls her dance training with Melissa Blake
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls her time at Los Angeles' Thomas Jefferson High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers her high school classmate, O.C. Smith
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls performing 'Scheherazade' at Thomas Jefferson High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers her dance training with Lester Horton
  • Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls when Bella Lewitsky left the Lester Horton Dance Theater
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Carmen De Lavallade describes Rudy Gernreich's choreography
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Carmen De Lavallade talks about the Lester Horton Technique
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls performing in Lester Horton's 'Salome'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls her ballet training with Carmelita Maracci
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Carmen De Lavallade reflects upon the business side of dance
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers Lester Horton's death
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls moving from Los Angeles to New York City
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls being hired as a dancer in 'Carmen Jones'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Carmen De Lavallade describes the cast and crew of 'Carmen Jones'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls joining the dance company of 'House of Flowers'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls performing in 'Yerma'
  • Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls her career path after Lester Horton's death
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls the makeup for Jack Cole's choreography in 'Lydia Bailey'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers working with choreographer Jack Cole
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Carmen De Lavallade describes Geoffrey Holder's generosity as a husband
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls performing 'A Drum Is a Woman' on live television
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls touring with Alvin Ailey's company in Southeast Asia
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her role in 'Odds Against Tomorrow'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls her experiences on 'The Ed Sullivan Show'
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls memorable performers from the 1960s
  • Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers learning pointe from Carmelita Maracci
  • Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her transition to acting
  • Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls teaching at New Haven's Yale School of Drama
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Carmen De Lavallade talks about Ballet Tap USA
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers 'The Four Marys'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls teaching at New Haven's Yale School of Drama
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Carmen De Lavallade describes differences between dancing and acting
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her teaching style
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls understudying as Googie Gomez in 'The Ritz'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls acting with Christopher Lloyd in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Carmen De Lavallade talks about playwright Adrienne Kennedy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her idea for a play
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Carmen De Lavallade remembers her portrayal of Emilia in 'Othello'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls appearing on 'The Cosby Show'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Carmen De Lavallade reflects upon aging as a performer
  • Tape: 5 Story: 13 - Carmen De Lavallade recalls choreographing 'Lucia di Lammermoor'
  • Tape: 5 Story: 14 - Carmen De Levallade recalls performing with Benny Goodman and Bill Evans
  • Tape: 5 Story: 15 - Carmen De Lavallade reflects upon teaching at the Yale School of Drama
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Carmen De Lavallade talks about her work with Gus Solomons jr
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Carmen De Lavallade describes her monologue, 'Willie's Lady Sings the Blues'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Carmen De Lavallade talks about her dramatic monologues
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Carmen De Lavallade talks about learning from one's past
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Carmen De Lavallade reflects upon the world of dance
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Carmen De Lavallade talks about the importance of originality
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Carmen De Lavallade describes how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Carmen De Lavallade reflects upon her life