| Born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Geoffrey Holder was one of
four children in a middle-class family. He attended Queens Royal College,
a secondary school in Port-of-Spain, and received lessons in painting and
dancing from his older brother Boscoe.
When Holder was seven, he debuted with his brother's dance troupe, the
Holder Dance Company. When Boscoe moved to London a decade later, Geoffrey
Holder took over direction of the company. In 1952, Agnes de Mille saw the
group perform on the island of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, and
invited Holder to audition for impresario Sol Hurok in New York City.
Already an accomplished painter, Holder sold 20 of his paintings to
pay for passage for the company to New York City in 1954. When Hurok
decided not to sponsor a tour for the company, Holder taught classes at
the Katherine Dunham School to support himself. His impressive height
(6'6") and formal attire at a dance recital attracted the attention of
producer Arnold Saint Subber who arranged for him to play Samedi, a
Haitian conjurer, in Harold Arlen's 1954 Broadway musical "House of
Flowers". During the run, Holder met fellow dancer Carmen DeLavallade,
and the two married in 1955. During 1955 and 1956 Holder was a principal
dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet in New York. He also appeared
with his troupe, Geoffrey Holder and Company, through 1960. The
multi-talented Holder continued to paint throughout this time, and in 1957
he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in painting.
In 1957 Holder acted in an all-black production of "Waiting for
Godot" . Although the show was short-lived, Holder continued to act,
and in 1961 he had his first film role in the movie ALL NIGHT LONG,
a modern retelling of "Othello". His career as a character actor
flourished with appearances in EVERYTHING YOU'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX (1972), LIVE AND LET DIE (1973), and as Punjab in
Holder has also been an active director. His direction of the Broadway
musical "The Wiz," (1975) an all-black retelling of THE WIZARD OF OZ, earned him Tony Awards for best director and best costume design.
In 1978 he directed and choreographed the lavish Broadway musical
"Timbuktu!" . He has choreographed pieces for many companies
including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, for which he
choreographed "Prodigal Prince" (1967), a dance based on the life of
a Haitian primitive painter. Dance Theater of Harlem has in its repertory
Holder's 1957 piece "Bele," which like most of his work combines
African and European elements.
Holder cowrote (with Tom Harshman) and illustrated the book BLACK GODS, GREEN ISLANDS (1959), a collection of Caribbean folklore; and
GEOFFREY HOLDER'S CARIBBEAN COOKBOOK was published in 1973. He also
gained widespread recognition in the late 1970s and 1980s for his lively
commercials. In 1992 Holder appeared in the film BOOMERANG with
Eddie Murphy. He resides in New York, where he continues to paint,
choreograph, and act.
-- Zita Allen