Emory University acquires archive of dancers Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder

The Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University has acquired the papers of dancers, activists, and artists Carmen

Holder and de Lavallade first met when they appeared together in “House of Flowers” in 1955 and married about six months later. Photograph by Peter Bausch. Geoffrey Holder/Carmen de Lavallade Collection, Rose Library at Emory University.

de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder.

Emory University will award de Lavallade an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at its 2018 commencement ceremony on Monday, May 14.

“This is such an amazing collection, with a tremendous amount of material,” says Pellom McDaniels III, Rose Library curator of African American collections. The collection provides a wealth of resources for research in multiple areas, including African American studies, film studies, theater, dance, art history, visual arts, international culture, and many more. “We can help faculty, students, and researchers make the connections,” McDaniels says.

Rose Library staff recently finished the initial processing of the Holder/de Lavallade collection, which opened to researchers and the public on May 3.

Among the materials are correspondence, photographs, scripts,

Geoffrey Holder giving direction at a rehearsal of his award-winning production of “The Wiz” in 1974. Photograph by Martha Swope. Geoffrey Holder/Carmen de Lavallade Collection, Rose Library at Emory University.

manuscripts, books and periodicals; videos of dance rehearsals; and sketchbooks, including portfolios of set designs and Holder’s costume drawings for “The Wiz,” for which he won Tony Awards in 1975 for costume design and direction.

The correspondence includes letters between Holder and his brother in Trinidad, Boscoe, who was also an internationally known artist, dancer and choreographer; and between de Lavallade and her cousin, Janet Collins, whom she succeeded as principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Collins was the first African American ballerina to become principal dancer at the Met.

“The conversations about their experiences are significant,” McDaniels says.

The collection could be the subject of a future exhibition once the materials are cataloged and described at a granular level, McDaniels says.

“The Holder/De Lavallade collection represents a wonderful addition to the Rose Library, substantially expanding our holdings on African American arts and artists to include this vital resource on the performing and visual arts,” says Jennifer Meehan, Rose Library’s interim director. “This collection and its creators will be sources of inspiration for students, artists, and scholars for years to come, opening up new avenues for exploration and creativity in theater, dance, and the arts. 

“As a place dedicated to creativity in all its forms, the Rose Library is proud to be the steward of this collection and preserve the legacy of these two remarkable artists.”

De Lavallade, 87, was born in Los Angeles in 1931 to black Creole parents from New Orleans. After her high school graduation, she received a scholarship to train with modern dancer and choreographer Lester Horton and spent five years with his dance theater as a lead dancer. She moved to New York in 1954 and made her Broadway debut in Truman Capote’s musical “House of Flowers,” where she met Holder. The two married in 1955. De Lavallade starred in four movies in the mid to late 1950s, including “Carmen Jones” with Dorothy Dandridge in 1954 and “Odds Against Tomorrow” with Harry Belafonte.

She became the principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in 1956 and was a guest artist with the American Ballet Theater. She has choreographed for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Philadanco, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Metropolitan Opera. De Lavallade taught movement for actors at Yale and became a member of the Yale Repertory Company and the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard. She received a Kennedy Center Honor in December 2017.

Holder (1930-2014) was a dancer, choreographer, actor, sculptor, painter,

Geoffrey Holder with his paintings, 1960. Over the course of his life, he produced thousands of paintings, most of which interpret African diasporic life, culture, and beauty. Unidentified photographer. Geoffrey Holder/Carmen de Lavallade Collection, Rose Library at Emory University.

and designer. He directed a dance troupe from his native Trinidad and Tobago, danced on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera, and won Tony Awards in 1975 for best direction of a musical and best costume design for “The Wiz.” He choreographed for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem, and acted onstage and in films such as “Live and Let Die” (1973) and “Annie” (1982). His work as a visual artist has been shown in galleries and museums. Holder was also a photographer, and a Guggenheim Fellow in 1956 in Fine Arts for painting. Ricardo Montalban, Anthony Perkins, and Lena Horne were among the many who sat for him.

McDaniels envisions potential partnerships with a variety of departments and units across Emory as well as Atlanta. Possibilities could include the Auburn Avenue Research Library, the High Museum of Art, Spelman College, and the National Black Arts Festival, to name a few.

“This collection represents an opportunity not only to pull different departments across campus together, but to create new bridges with the larger Atlanta community,” McDaniels says.

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