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 Geoffrey Holder  (1930 - )

About: Geoffrey Holder
 

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Lived/Active: New York / Spain      Known for: paintings, murals, acting

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Lena, 1959
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:

The following information was compiled and submitted by Charles Flint:

Geoffrey Holder, born on August 20, 1930 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, into a middle-class family of four children is of mixed French, African, and Irish descent, and was raised in an environment surrounded by art.  His grandfather was a French painter and his elder brother is, like Holder himself, a painter and a dancer. Holder attended the Queen's Royal College and taught himself to paint at the age of fifteen when a minor illness kept him at home and gave him the opportunity to "steal" his brother's paints.  He painted a dozen works and hung them around the family living room.  Though furious at first his brother soon changed his mind and invited people to see the exhibition, which was promptly removed to the Public Library in Trinidad where it enjoyed great success.  Encouraged by the sale of ten paintings, young Holder continued to paint and for the next several years Trinidad's library gave him a show each year. 

In 1953, after a year in Puerto Rico, Holder brought the ballet company, which he had formed, to New York, supporting himself and his dancers by selling his paintings.  By 1954 he had his first successful one-man show in New York at the Barone Gallery. In 1957 after several more shows he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in art and "just painted."

Although he is perhaps better known in New York as a dancer (he was the first dancer at the Metropolitan Opera), Holder is passionately devoted to painting in oil and to drawing.  In addition to easel paintings he has executed two large murals, both in Trinidad-one at the Trinidad-Hilton Hotel and one at the University of the West Indies.  He has also designed costumes for ballets and in 1958 worked on costumes, sets and choreography for a ballet on a Brazilian theme for the Rebekah Harkness Foundation.  Holder's style is Impressionist and naturally so, he says, since the general art influence in Trinidad stems from French settlers and from the people of the French Caribbean island of Martinique who have come to the British island.  According to Holder's own history, this influence was strengthened by the work of his grandfather, Louis Ephraim, and by that of his brother, Boscoe Holder. His work is free-flowing, very rhythmical, tropically warm and brightly clear in color, full of the brilliance of nature.  He continues to paint and to exhibit in both New York and Paris.

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Geoffrey Holder was taught painting and dancing by his older brother Boscoe Holder, whose dance troupe, the Holder Dance Company, the young Geoffrey joined when he was seven-years old.  Geoffrey assumed direction of the company in the late 1940s after Boscoe moved to London.

Holder moved to the United States in 1954, two years after being "discovered" by Agnes de Mille, the choreographer daughter of director-producer Cecil B. DeMille, after she saw the Holder Dance Company perform in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.  Holder, a talented painter, sold a score of his paintings to raise the funds to bring the Holder Dance Company to New York City in 1954. (In 1957, Holder won a Guggenheim Fellowship to study painting.)  Holder would appear with his dance company, now entitled Geoffrey Holder and Company, in New York through 1960.

On December 30, 1954, Holder made his Broadway debut (as did Diahann Carroll) at the Alvin Theatre in the Caribbean-themed original musical "House of Flowers", with music by Harold Arlen, who also co-wrote the book with Truman Capote.  The cast included Pearl Bailey and Alvin Ailey, and the show was directed by Peter Brook.  Herbert Ross did the choreography but the "Banda Dance" was choreographed by Holder.  The show ran for 165 total performances, but more importantly, Holder met and married fellow cast member Carmen DeLavallade, a dancer, and the two had a child together, a son.  From 1955 through 1956, Holder was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet.

Holder played the role of Lucky in a revival of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" directed by Herbert Berghof on Broadway in January 1957.  The all-black cast also included Geoffrey Earle Hyman as Vladimir, Rex Ingram as Pozzo, and Mantan Moreland as Estragon.  The show only lasted six performances, but it established Holder as an actor, and he made his film debut four years later in All Night Long (1961), a modern gloss on Shakespeare's "Othello".  His most famous role was as the heavy "Baron Samedi" in the 1973 James Bond movie, Live and Let Die (1973), Roger Moore's first turn as 007.

Holder won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical for his staging of the Broadway musical "The Wiz" (1975), the all-African American retelling of "The Wizard of Oz."  He also won the Tony for best costume design (he would be nominated again for a Tony for best costume design for the original 1978 Broadway musical "Timbuktu!", which he also directed and choreographed.  As a choreographer, he has created dance pieces for many companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Holder has written two books, one on folklore and one on Caribbean cuisine.  In the in the 1970s and '80s, TV commercials put his striking 6'6" presence and bass voice to good use hawking various products, including soft drinks.


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