Home > Treasures A-Z > Carmen de Lavallade

Carmen de Lavallade

Back to List | More Resources

Carmen de Lavallade in Ailey's Blues Suite, photo by Eric SmithAbout

A dancer, choreographer, and actor, Carmen de Lavallade is known for her sensual quality of movement; Duke Ellington once called her one of the most ravishing women in the world. Born in New Orleans in 1931, de Lavallade received a scholarship at age 16 to train under Lester Horton. At the Lester Horton Dance Theatre, de Lavallade met her frequent collaborator, Alvin Ailey, and it was while dancing with Ailey in House of Flowers on Broadway, de Lavallade met and married fellow dancer Geoffrey Holder. With Holder, she was able to develop her West Indian-influenced style of modern dance and choreograph the solo "Come Sunday" to black spiritual music. Over the course of her career, de Lavallade danced for the Metropolitan Opera, John Butler's dance company, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and the American Ballet Theatre. She starred in movies-most notably in Carmen Jones- and musicals and plays. She continues to perform, including the 2012 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway, and her love story and creative collaboration with Holder was recently commemorated in the documentary Carmen and Geoffrey.

Pictured left: Carmen de Lavallade in Alvin Ailey's Blues Suite (1958). De Lavallade's relationship with Ailey, who created this rich dance portrait of African American life in the South, was among the most significant artistic collaborations of her career. (Photograph by Eric Smith. Alvin Ailey Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) 

Carmen de Lavallade in Ailey's Blues Suite, photo by Eric Smith





Essay by Irlanda Esteli Jacinto -- Selected resources

Related Treasures: African-Americans in Dance -- Women Choroegraphers


Pictured right: Carmen de Lavallade in Pierrot Lunaire, a ballet inspired by the characters of the commedia dell'arte, with the Glen Tetley Dance Company. In a May 2012 interview in Ebony magazine, de Lavallade spoke about the relationship between dancing and acting, and how character can be created through movement and physicality. (Photo credit: Ann Barzel Dance Research Collection, The Newberry Library, Chicago.)


Carmen de Lavallade by Jack Mitchell 



Pictured left: Photograph of Carmen de Lavallade by Jack Mitchell, capturing the elegance and physical beauty for which de Lavallade has been celebrated throughout her career.

(Ann Barzel Dance Research Collection, The Newberry Library, Chicago.)





Carmen de Lavallade dancing an excerpt from John Butler's Portrait of Billie, recorded at Jacob's Pillow in 1992. In 1960 de Lavallade performed in the premiere of this work, set to the music of Billie Holiday, and she revived this signature piece in 1992. Carmen de Lavallade's career longevity has become an inspiring aspect of her legacy; she remains active as a performer in 2012. (From the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Archives.)