At 83-years-old Carmen De Lavallade has had a career in dance, film, and theater for more than six decades. She’s danced and worked with such names as Alvin Ailey, Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Agnes de Mille, Martha Graham, and Ezra Pound. Along with her husband Geoffrey Holder, most recognizable as ‘Punjab’ from the original “Annie” movie, who designs her clothing, de Lavallade doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon.
As a matter of fact, she’s preparing for a new show.
The new piece, “As I Remember It,” is a memoir for the stage. Written by de Lavallade and playwright-dramaturg Talvin Wilks, it combines storytelling and movement — though the proportions of each were still in flux last week at the Baryshnikov Arts Center on Manhattan’s West Side, where they were making the show with director Joe Grifasi. Partly, it’s a matter of conserving the physical resources of de Lavallade, one of the founders of Paradigm, a high-profile ensemble of older dancers.“As Joe keeps reminding me, ‘Tell the story,’” said de Lavallade, who radiates such serene beauty and grace that she could subtract a couple of decades from her age and get away with it. “But that dancer mind gets in, which can be dangerous, because all of a sudden your energy wants to go way beyond. I can’t do that anymore. I have to learn what works.
“The other day, I rehearsed, and I had to do part of a little video for the piece, and I just went and went and went with my adrenaline. And, boy, the next two days — oh, dear. But that’s a dancer for you. They can’t help themselves. Because they remember, the muscles remember, everything remembers, and the energy and the force that you use is tremendous. It’s much harder than it looks. The whole idea is to look easy, to look effortless.”
“As I Remember It” came out of recollections de Lavallade had been writing down for a book that she may still complete. She wanted to tell some stories her son didn’t know, and she thought she might correct some bits of misinformation that are floating around about her life, some as basic as where she was born: in fact, Los Angeles.
It was in Los Angeles that she studied with Horton and went to high school with Ailey — then a gymnast whom she persuaded to come to Horton’s studio “because I thought he moved really well,” she said.
So on top of her own dance career, you can thank De Lavallade for discovering Alvin Ailey.