After listening to a very stimulating article on Black fashion & how it intersects with the world on NPR today I visited the site tonight to hear it again. As usual NPR had corresponding images & other information related to the topic but this one thing caught my eye & it was an image of Geoffrey Holder & his beautiful wife Carmen de Lavallade. The image was from the 1968 revival of “House of Flowers”.
I did not know much about Geoffrey or Carmen but I was familiar more with Geoffrey from the 7-Up commercials from back in the day & from one of my favorite movies “Boomerang”where he played freaky “Nelson” (remember the Strangé Kiss commercial with the cherries; MARVELOUS). So I decided to see what more I could learn about Geoffrey & read many great articles about his very diverse career as an actor, dancer, designer & painter.
So anyway as I continue on looking at pictures etc of Geoffrey’s past work, I stumbled across a PBS website for their documentary “Free to Dance” (2001), which is a 3 part film on the “chronicles the crucial role that African-American choreographers and dancers have played in the development of modern dance as an American art form.”
Part One “What Do You Dance”: “What Do You Dance?” begins the story of the evolution of a uniquely American form of movement with African slaves on a southern plantation hunched low to the ground, feet pounding the earth with rhythmic intensity as they hum, clap, sing, and dance the “Ring Shout” — one of the dances writer Ralph Ellison called America’s first choreography….
Part Two “Steps of the Gods”: Katherine Dunham’s year in the Caribbean, during the 1930s was both an anthropological field trip and a journey in search of her own roots. She experienced dance that was a powerful echo of African culture and an integral part of spiritual and secular life. After completing her master’s thesis, “The Dances of Haiti,” Dunham turned to the concert stage — a bold move at a time when black dancers were confined to roles as sensual exotica in cabaret chorus lines or comic relief in minstrel shows and vaudeville….
Part Three “Go For What You Know”: Through the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, a “dance explosion” made it America’s newest spectator sport. Any given season, an uncanny number of ballet and modern dance companies strutted their stuff on the stages (and even rooftops) of New York City — the dance capital of the world. At the same time, cultural, social, and political upheaval gripped the nation. The times, they were a-changin’ — the civil rights movement inspired the women’s liberation and gay rights movements, and more. Choreographers and other artists reflected and forecasted society’s seismic shifts. Change was the only constant. Everything was questioned…
Unfortunately I missed this documentary & do not feel like paying $79 for it at this time but the site had so much useful information, I do not feel like I totally missed out. One of the standout pages of interest was their very comprehensive dance timeline which starts out in 1619 with the 1st group of Africans in America all the way to 2001.
The site also features several bios on dancers/choreographers etc. such as Thelma Hill, Alvin Ailey, Percival Sebastian Borde, Debbie Allen, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar & Virginia Alma Fairfax Johnson to name a few.
One last point of interest I would like to note is the Behind the Dance page which features essays on dance that are just awesome. The essays that I enjoyed most are:
- “From Slave Ships to Center Stage”
- “From Minstrel Show to Concert Stage”
- “Revelations” & Beyond”
- “What s Black Dance”
Bottom line here is just check out the damn site! It is a wonderful education resource & a feel good thing on how we overcome during dark hours to rise above it all.
I guess to close the circle of this story also check out the NPR piece that started all of this out also. Here is the link.