Geoffrey Holder, Multitalented Artist, Dies at 84


Jennifer Dunning and William McDonald wrote a beautiful obituary (The New York Times) for Geoffrey Holder, the dancer, choreographer, actor, composer, designer and painter “who used his manifold talents to infuse the arts with the flavor of his native West Indies and to put a singular stamp on the American cultural scene.” Mr. Holder died on Sunday in Manhattan. See excerpts here and the full article in the link below:

Few cultural figures of the last half of the 20th century were as multifaceted as Mr. Holder, and few had a public presence as unmistakable as his, with his gleaming pate atop a 6-foot-6 frame, full-bodied laugh and bassoon of a voice laced with the lilting cadences of the Caribbean.

Mr. Holder directed a dance troupe from his native Trinidad and Tobago, danced on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera and won Tony Awards in 1975 for direction of a musical and costume design for “The Wiz,” a rollicking, all-black version of “The Wizard of Oz.” His choreography was in the repertory of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem. He acted onstage and in films and was an accomplished painter, photographer and sculptor whose works have been shown in galleries and museums. He published a cookbook.

[. . .] Geoffrey Lamont Holder was born into a middle-class family on Aug. 1, 1930, in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, one of four children of Louise de Frense and Arthur Holder, who had immigrated from Barbados. Geoffrey attended Queen’s Royal College, an elite secondary school in Trinidad. There he struggled with a stammer that plagued him into early adulthood.

[. . .] Growing up, Mr. Holder came under the wing of his talented older brother, Arthur Aldwyn Holder, known to everyone by his childhood nickname, Boscoe. Boscoe Holder taught Geoffrey painting and dancing and recruited him to join a small, folkloric dance troupe he had formed, the Holder Dancing Company. Boscoe was 16; Geoffrey, 7.

[. . .] Geoffrey Holder took over the dance company, as its director and lead performer, and he took it to New York City in 1954, invited by the choreographer Agnes de Mille, who had seen the troupe perform two years before in St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. She arranged an audition for the impresario Sol Hurok. To pay for the troupe’s passage, Mr. Holder, already an established young painter, sold 20 of his paintings.

After dropping his bags at an uncle’s apartment in Brooklyn, he fell in love with the city. [. . .] Mr. Holder had the good fortune to arrive in New York at a time of relative popularity for all-black Broadway productions as well as black dance, both modern and folk. Calypso music was also gaining a foothold, thanks largely to Harry Belafonte.

For a while Mr. Holder taught classes at the Katherine Dunham School and was a principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, in 1955 and 1956. He continued to dance and direct the Holder dance company until 1960, when it disbanded. In the meantime, at a dance recital, he caught the attention of the producer Arnold Saint-Subber, who was putting together a show with a Caribbean theme.

[. . .] Mr. Holder’s dance designs were equally bold. Reviewing a 1999 revival of “Banda” by the Dance Theater of Harlem, Anna Kisselgoff wrote in The Times, “Mr. Holder is a terrific showman, and his mix of Afro-Caribbean rituals, modern dance and even ballet’s pirouettes is potent and dazzling.”

Other Holder dance classics were “Prodigal Prince” (1971), a dreamlike re-creation of the life and work of Hector Hyppolite, the Haitian folk painter, for which he also composed the musical score; and “Dougla” (1974), an evocation of a mixed-race Caribbean wedding. (Dougla refers to people who are of African and Indian descent.)

In 1959, he published a book on Caribbean folklore, “Black Gods, Green Islands,” written with Tom Harshman and illustrated by Mr. Holder; in 1973, he produced “Geoffrey Holder’s Caribbean Cookbook.” He himself was the subject of books and documentaries, including “Carmen & Geoffrey” (2009), by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob.

Mr. Holder said his artistic life was governed by a simple credo, shaped by his own experience as a West Indian child who had yet to see the world.

“I create for that innocent little boy in the balcony who has come to the theater for the first time,” he told Dance magazine in 2010. “He wants to see magic, so I want to give him magic. He sees things that his father couldn’t see.”

[Many thanks to Pablo Delano for bringing this item to our attention.]

For full article, see

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