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!
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.
You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)
Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of: