An artist embraced: Carmen de Lavallade

Dance · Theater · Visual arts

The amazing, still gorgeous, always regal Carmen de Lavallade — born in New Orleans, raised in East Los Angeles — exemplifies an Empress of dance, the kind of royalty spawned in Vernon, California.

Thursday night, De Lavallade returned to Los Angeles — where she and chum Alvin Ailey attended Thomas Jefferson High School, where she first danced for the great Los Angeles choreographer, Lester Horton. A sizable crowd gathered to greet De Lavallade and to enjoy the opening of “A Memoir in Movement,” a significant exhibition bestowing honor on the dancer and her husband of 59 years, Geoffrey Holder. She participated in a warm conversation masterfully conducted by California African American Museum Executive Director, Charmaine Jefferson.

It was a huge, happy house party, replete with wine, niblets … and Carmen de Lavallade.

(Holder, who remained in New York was piped in by video; however, no monitor could not remotely contain this man’s abundant personality.)


De Lavallade remembered growing up in Vernon:

“I first studied dance doing the Mexican Hat Dance. There were poppy fields [then] in L.A! Wonderful empty fields. It wasn’t dirt … it was earth.

[I have a photo with] my hands on my hips. I think I was born with my hands on my hips. That photo … in that field … from there to now … I feel so blessed.”

She praised Holder:

“Geoffrey sends his regards. He’s excited for me. Geoffrey never lost his childhood. He is spontaneous. He has young eyes. Everything is new to him. He sees things differently than other people.

My upbringing was stricter [than his]. In the dance world, it’s like the army. To have this creative person around you, you loosen up. He has been my greatest champion; he is right there. [He has supported] whatever I wanted to do.”

There was more: we all got to glimpse the delicious “A Memoir in Movement” exhibition: five rooms crammed with theatrical memorabilia, photos, costumes, sketches, and oil paintings; the fragments, the vast leave-behinds and memories of a decades-long artistic arts existence undertaken — sometimes as a pair, sometimes solo — by the great New York arts couple.

Paying homage to La Carmen at CAAM, along with choreographer Donald McKayle and actor Obba Babatundé, was Blair Underwood, pictured above. As Stanley Kowalski, Underwood shared a stage with De Lavallade (she played a Mexican woman/neighbor) in the 2012 Broadway revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

A Memoir in Movement | California African American Museum | thru April

Photo credit: Marty Cotwright

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