Carmen de Lavallade

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    Meet the Masters: Carmen de Lavallade


Carmen De Lavallade was born to Black Creole parents and raised by her aunt who owned an African American bookshop. De Lavallade began studying ballet with Melissa Blake at the age of 16. After graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School in L.A., she was awarded a scholarship to study dance with Lester Horton where she performed as a lead dancer until her departure for New York City where she joined Alvin Ailey in 1954. In 1954, De Lavallade made her Broadway debut partnered with Alvin Ailey in Truman Capote's House of Flowers.

In 1955, De Lavallade married dancer and actor Geoffrey Holder who she had met while working on House of Flowers. It was with Holder that De Lavallade choreographed her signature solo, Come Sunday, to a black spiritual sung by Odetta Gordon. The following year, De Lavallade danced as the 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 appeared in several off-Broadway productions, including Othello and Death of a Salesman and took on numerous acting roles with Twentieth Century Fox between 1952 and 1955.

Other performances include dancing with Donald McKayle and appearing in Agnes de Mille's American Ballet Theater productions of The Four Marys and The Frail Quarry in 1965. De Lavallade joined the prestigious Yale School of Drama as a choreographer and performer-in-residence in 1970, and eventually 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 Meistersing.
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