Director, Performer, Choreographer, Designer
( b. Aug 01, 1930 Port of Spain, TRINIDAD - d. Oct 05, 2014 New York, New York, USA ) Male
Geoffrey Holder was a 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, not least with his outsize personality.
Mr. Holder directed a dance troupe from his native Trinidad and Tobago, danced on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera, won Tony Awards in 1975 for musical direction 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.
Mr. Holder acknowledged that he achieved his widest celebrity as the jolly, white-suited television pitchman for 7Up in the 1970s and '80s, when in a run of commercials, always in tropical settings, he happily endorsed the soft-drink as an "absolutely maaarvelous" alternative to Coca-Cola -- or "the Un-Cola," as the ads put it. He even good-naturedly alluded to the TV spots in accepting his Tony for directing, using their signature line "Just try making something like that out of a cola nut."
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. Geoffrey 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.
For a while Mr. Holder taught classes at the Katherine Dunham School and was a principal dancer for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. 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.
Thus did Mr. Holder make his Broadway debut on Dec. 30, 1954, as a featured dancer in the House of Flowers, a haunting, perfumed evocation of West Indian bordello life, with music by Harold Arlen and a book by Arlen and Truman Capote, based on his novella of the same name. Directed by Peter Brook at the Alvin Theater, it starred Diahann Carroll and Pearl Bailey, and among its dancers was a ravishingly pretty young woman named Carmen de Lavallade. She and Mr. Holder married in 1955, had a son, and sometimes shared the stage.
Mr. Holder was multitasking before the term gained currency. In 1957 he landed a notable acting role playing the hapless servant Lucky in an all-black Broadway revival of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, directed by Herbert Berghof. The show, just seven months after the play's original Broadway production, closed after only six performances because of a union dispute, but the role, with its rambling, signature 700-word monologue, lifted Mr. Holder's acting career. That same year, he choreographed, and danced in, a revival of the George and Ira Gershwin musical Rosalie in Central Park.
His visual creativity extended to costume designs, The Wiz being just one showcase. Another was John Taras's 1982 production of The Firebird for the Dance Theater of Harlem, in which the Russian fairy tale was relocated to a tropical forest. Mr. Holder designed both the sets and the costumes, one of which was a blend of 30 or 40 colors. He earned another Tony nomination for best costume design for the 1978 Broadway musical Timbuktu!, an all-black show based on the musical Kismet. He also directed and choreographed Timbuktu!.
Source: The New York Times obituary
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