Film Forum is celebrating the eighty-ninth birthday of the one and only Carmen de Lavallade with a special screening of Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob’s 2006 documentary, Carmen & Geoffrey, along with rare footage of de Lavallade and Alvin Ailey dancing the ballet from Porgy and Bess in Howard Beach for a 1960 television show. Carmen & Geoffrey is an endearing look at de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder’s lifelong love affair with dance — and each other. The New Orleans-born de Lavallade studied with Lester Horton and went to high school with Ailey, whom she brought to his first dance class. Trinidadian Holder was a larger-than-life gentle giant who was a dancer, choreographer, composer, costume designer, actor, director, writer, photographer, painter, and just about anything else he wanted to be.
The two met when they both were cast in Truman Capote and Harold Arlen’s Broadway show House of Flowers in 1954, with the six-foot-six Holder instantly falling in love with de Lavallade; they were together until 2014, when he passed away at the age of eighty-four. Atkinson and Doob combine amazing archival footage — of Eartha Kitt, Josephine Baker, Ulysses Dove, de Lavallade dancing with Ailey, and other splendid moments — with contemporary rehearsal scenes, dance performances, and interviews with such stalwarts as dance critic Jennifer Dunning (author of Geoffrey Holder: A Life in Theater, Dance and Art), former Alvin Ailey artistic director Judith Jamison, dancer Dudley Williams, and choreographer Joe Layton (watch out for his eyebrows), along with family members and Gus Solomons jr, who still works with de Lavallade. The film was made on an extremely low budget and it shows, but it is filled with such glorious footage that you’ll get over that quickly.