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!
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.