Carmen De Lavallade
born on March 6, 1931, to Creole parents from New Orleans, Louisiana, in Los Angeles California.
She was raised by her aunt who owned one of the first African American history bookshops on Central Avenue. Her cousin, Janet Collins, was the first African American prima ballerina at the Metropolitan Opera. De Lavallade began studying ballet with Melissa Blake at the age of 16 and after graduation from Thomas Jefferson High School in L.A., was awarded a scholarship to study dance with Lester Horton.
De Lavallade became a member of the Lester Horton Dance Theater in 1949 where she danced as a lead dancer until her departure for New York City with Alvin Ailey in 1954. De Lavallade, like all of Horton's students, studied other art forms including painting, acting, music, set design and costuming as well as ballet and other forms of modern and ethnic dance. De Lavallade also studied privately with Italian ballerina Carmelita Maracci and acting with Stella Adler. In 1954, De Lavallade made her Broadway debut partnered with Alvin Ailey in Truman Capote's House of Flowers.
In 1955, De Lavallade married dancer and actor Geoffrey Holder who she had met while working on House of Flowers. It was with Holder that De Lavallade choreographed her signature solo, Come Sunday, to a black spiritual sung by Odetta Gordon. The following year, De Lavallade danced as the prima ballerina in Samson and Delilah, and Aida at the Metropolitan Opera. She also made her television debut in John Butler's ballet Flight, and in 1957, she appeared in the television production of Duke Ellington's A Drum is a Woman.
De Lavallade also appeared in several off-Broadway productions, including Othello and Death of a Salesman. An introduction to Twentieth Century Fox executives by Lena Horne lead to more acting roles between 1952 and 1955. She appeared in several films including Carmen Jones with Dorothy Dandridge and Odds Against Tomorrow with Harry Belafonte.
De Lavallade was a principal guest performer with Alvin Ailey's Dance Company on the company's tour of Asia and in some countries the company was billed as De Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Company.
Other performances included dancing with Donald McKayle and appearing in Agnes deMille's American Ballet Theater productions of The Four Marys and The Frail Quarry in 1965. De Lavallade joined the prestigious Yale School of Drama as a choreographer and performer-in-residence in 1970. She staged musicals, plays and operas, and eventually became a professor and member of the Yale Repertory Theater.
Between 1990 and 1993, De Lavallade returned to the Metropolitan Opera as choreographer for Porgy and Bess and Die Meistersinger.