Dance Theatre of Harlem performing Dougla. Photo by Martha Swope, courtesy DTH.

In The Studio: Dance Theatre of Harlem Keeps Geoffrey Holder's Legacy Alive

Dance Theatre of Harlem is busy preparing for the company's Vision Gala on April 4. The works on the program, which takes place on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and his impact on company founder Arthur Mitchell. Among them is the much-anticipated revival of legendary choreographer Geoffrey Holder's Dougla, which will include live music and dancers from Collage Dance Collective.

We stepped into the studio with Holder's wife Carmen de Lavallade and son Leo Holder to hear what it feels like to keep Holder's legacy alive and what de Lavallade thinks of the recent rise in kids standing up against the government—as she did not too long ago.


What does it mean to you to keep Geoffrey Holder's legacy alive?

Carmen de Lavallade: It feels so wonderful because I really miss him. He had this wonderful eye for color and sheer movement. His work was for the eyes and for the soul, and even though there's a story connected to it, it's not pageantry. It's something to sit back, relax and enjoy. Geoffrey was very large, with his paintings and with his movement, but he was always very generous with it. He was generous to everyone he met.

Leo Holder: It's thrilling! This is the first company to perform his work without him present and that was something that I had to tackle psychologically. The first time we had a run-though of the piece, I joined everyone together and passed around a ring of Geoffrey's so that everyone could feel his energy. It's a psychological thing but it works because it brings some sort of context to the piece. And that's very important especially once the choreographer is no longer there. The further and further away the generations get from the source the less they have the context.

What changes, if any, have you made to the revival of Dougla?

Holder: This company has had this piece for 46 years and in that time things morph and get lost in translation. There are a few things from his original solo performance in 1972 that have been edited out over time and I'm excited to see those phrases back in the work.

DTH in rehearsal for Geoffrey Holder's Dougla.

Carmen, you decided to forgo the White House reception after the Kennedy Center Honors last year—which was ultimately canceled.

De Lavallade: Well really it was Norman Lear. He started it, I finished it. That incident is when I grew up. I pretty much always go along with everything, but I saw "he who I won't mention" defending the people who were causing terror in Charlottesville and I said, "That's it. I'm not going." And I felt very good about it.

What are your thoughts on kids today speaking out against the government?

De Lavallade: Hallelujah! The government wants to argue with a teenager? Ha! They don't know what they're getting themselves into. These kids have so much energy and we need them to take over because we're tired of fighting these fights. I bet all this time the government didn't think they were paying attention but boy are they ever. They are articulate and they know what they're talking about. I think it's wonderful!

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