Carmen de Lavallade introduced Alvin Ailey to dance (“He was on the gym team and looked like a dancer, so I suggested he take class”), performed in a Paris cabaret with Josephine Baker (“Unlike many at the time, she was very gracious”), and taught Meryl Streep (“at Yale Repertory Theater. We performed onstage together”). She remains strikingly humble.
The 68-year-old diva celebrates her 50-year career in theater, dance, and cinema at a tribute hosted by the American Artist Relief Organization Saturday at the Hudson Theater. “She represents the best parts of this industry,” says the organization’s president, Franklin West. The evening features performances and appearances by Phylicia Rashad, George Faison, and members of the Ailey company.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with the best,” says de Lavallade. She’s been muse to her spouse, choreographer-actor Geoffrey Holder, and her friend Ailey, whose admiration she won dancing at Los Angeles’s Thomas Jefferson High School, which they attended together. “Studying at the Lester Horton School, we had no idea what we would become.” She and Ailey joined the cast of the 1954 Broadway musical House of Flowers with Pearl Bailey, Katherine Dunham, and Holder. “That’s where I met my husband,” she says affectionately. “That show made its mark. It would take a whole book to talk about it.” Holder (also honored this weekend, by Djoniba Dance and Drum) created several dances for his wife, including the solo Come Sunday.
She balances a peripatetic schedule that includes dancing in A Thin Frost with Dudley Williams and Gus Solomons jr, writing a musical, and teaching. She’s appeared on stage with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and on screen in the films Lone Star and Big Daddy. Despite her accomplishments, she views herself as a perpet-ual student. “You have to learn from everything. The learning is the most important thing. It never stops.”
For tribute information, call 928-7045; to reach Djoniba, call 966-7530.