Born in New Orleans, but raised in California, De Lavallade was discovered by Lena Horne and got her start in the Fifties as a dancer, appearing in Hollywood films like Carmen Jones and Odds Against Tomorrow. However, she really came into her own as a soloist with Alvin Ailey’s company and as a prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera.
Holder, meanwhile, was born in Trinidad where as a child he was unfairly labeled as slow academically due to dyslexia and a stammer which caused him to stutter. Furthermore, given that the Anglophilic nature of his post-colonial homeland where all of his local folklore was banned, it’s a wonder that he was able to reach maturity with a healthy sense of self still intact.
But the 6’6” gentle giant made his way to New York City where he broke into showbiz on Broadway, initially as a dancer, just like the lovely wife-to-be he met when they were both cast in The Flower Drum Song. Relying on De Lavallade as a constant source of inspiration, Holder soon blossomed into a formidable Renaissance Man.
His myriad talents led to noteworthy accomplishments not only as a dancer but also as an actor, director, choreographer, costume and set designer, painter and musician. Although his stage career peaked when he won a Tony Award for directing The Wiz, he is probably most recognized as the pitchman for a series of TV commercials for 7-Up in the phenomenally successful “Un-Cola” ad campaign.
Holder has also left his mark on Hollywood, co-starring in the 007 feature film Live and Let Die and in the screen adaptation of the musical Annie, etcetera. All the while, he has remained a prolific fine artist whose paintings and sculptures have landed in leading museums and private collections. Today, De Lavallade, a renowned choreographer, teaches at Yale where she’s been on the faculty since 1970.
As engagingly-chronicled by co-directors Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob, Carmen & Geoffrey stands as a fitting tribute to a pair of extraordinary overachievers and as a touching portrait of over a half century of black-on-black love and of lives very well lived.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 80 minutes
Distributor: First Run Features