By Anicka Austin, Emory University Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library and SGA Blog Contributor
In the gospel of Mark in the New Testament of The Bible, readers meet Salome, Herodias’ daughter. Herodias harbored a strong dislike of John the Baptist, who disapproved of her marriage to Herod, her previous husband’s brother. Herodias’ opportunity to enact revenge came unexpectedly when Herod gave a banquet on his birthday. Salome dances beautifully for Herod and his guests during the banquet, prompting Herod to offer Salome anything she wants. Salome asks Herodias what she should request, returns to Herod and says, “the head of John the Baptist on a platter”. Herod reluctantly acquiesces (Mark 6:17-29). This story has been explored by artists throughout history and choreographer Lester Horton almost obsessively recreated and reimagined it throughout his career.
Carmen de Lavallade as Salome, and in The Beloved, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
Carmen de Lavallade first danced the hefty role of Salome in Horton’s production when she was still a teenager. Frank Eng, Horton’s business manager and partner, said she possessed “a youthful, lovely lyricism; an implicit and natural feeling for drama…and, most important, the drive.” (Bizot, 1984). De Lavallade’s commanding presence and ability to tap into the dramatic elements of a work would be a defining quality throughout her career.
For de Lavallade, dancing with Horton helped shape her formative years. She recalls working with Horton’s company as being part of a team. The group did everything from painting sets to cleaning, which she says set her up for a well-rounded career in the arts (You Might Know Her From, 2020). This is evident in early photographs of the company, including depictions of de Lavallade teaching young students, performing Salome (1950-1953) and The Beloved (created in 1948), and working intently in rehearsal processes. She would help reconstruct Salome, or as Horton later called it, The Face of Violence, along with James Truitte for the Cincinnati Ballet Company in 1972 (Bizet, 1984).
Carmen de Lavallade with children, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
Throughout the collection of photographs in the Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, researchers might notice de Lavallade’s commitment to a variety of projects, which explains the range with which she performs. From actor to choreographer to dancer to educator, de Lavallade made her way through commercial film, Broadway, Yale Repertory Theater, and the stages of Paris where she danced with Josephine Baker. A series of negatives, slides and photographs show her journey through Southeast Asia as headliner of de Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Theater (1962). Her work with choreographer John Butler is also well-documented, including photographs of the well-loved Portrait of Billie (1960-1992) performed throughout several years.
Carmen de Lavallade and John Butler rehearse Portrait of Billie, and de Lavallade and Alvin Ailey on Southeast Asia tour, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
Through photographs, researchers can also see de Lavallade celebrated and celebrating at formal events such as Kennedy Center Honors and the “Divas of the Twentieth Century” award ceremony (1991). De Lavallade’s life in photographs is rounded out by decades of headshots and documentation of dinners, parties and relationships with friends and family.
Carmen de Lavallade at White House, and with friends, Geoffrey Holder and Carmen de Lavallade papers, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University
The photographs shown here represent a fraction of de Lavallade’s early life (circa 1949-1968), but researchers can find photographs in this series from circa 1900-2017. Photographs of Geoffrey Holder’s life and career are also prominent. For research questions, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Bizot, Richard (1984). Lester Horton’s Salome, 1934-1953 and after. Dance Research Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 35-40. https://doi.org/10.2307/1478256
Bellino, Damian and Anne Rodeman. 2020 February 20. Carmen de Lavallade [Audio Podcast Episode]. “You Might Know Her From”. https://youmightknowherfrom.libsyn.com/carmen-de-lavallade
New International Version of the Bible. Biblica. https://www.biblica.com/bible/niv/mark/6/