Carmen de Lavallade’s magical tour of a legendary ‘Life’

Zita Allen | 1/24/2019, midnight
Dancer, actor, choreographer and charismatic, iconic performer Carmen de Lavallade takes audiences on a magical mesmerizing tour of what can ...
Carmen de Lavallade

Dancer, actor, choreographer and charismatic, iconic performer Carmen de Lavallade takes audiences on a magical mesmerizing tour of what can only be described as a charmed life when she graces the Appel Room of Jazz at Lincoln Center with her show, “Life of a Legend,” Jan. 24 and 25 at 7 p.m. each night.

Billed as a celebration of de Lavallade’s love of both dance and jazz, this limited engagement features the beautiful 87-year-old star sharing memories interwoven with music and dance as she entertains us with stories of professional and personal encounters with such jazz legends as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Jane Ira Bloom and Bill Evans, among others. For example, there’s the time she brought Louis Armstrong and Ellington to tears, in 1960, when she transformed into the legendary singer Billie Holiday in John Butler’s “Portrait of Billie,” which she danced with a friend she brought to the dance world—Alvin Ailey.

As she diligently refines the upcoming presentation during a rehearsal in the uptown studio at the Dance Theatre of Harlem, de Lavallade dances and reminisces, her long lean body moving with elegance and grace, is a beauty in itself. Later she talks about the upcoming program.

“I want it to be fun but informative,” she says. Asked to describe the performance, she laughs, “It’s hard to say, but it’s not a lecture. It’s a theatrical memory. Yes, I wrote the script, but I had people to help me. Hopefully people will enjoy the tour.” Of course, those who remember the critically acclaimed 2015 production “As I Remember It” know-how wonderful this show will be. No, this upcoming production is not a repeat of the earlier one-woman show; after all, this woman’s eight-decade-long career has more than enough stories—each more tantalizing than the last—to fill countless productions. When one has lived a life as exciting as hers, every second is a dazzling gem.

Jazz is the through line that connects all the stories de Lavallade shares in “Life of a Legend,” and as she weaves in and out of the decades, we hear of her collaborations and friendships with other legends.

“I remember when…” is a refrain that leads to colorful and even humorous stories about her husband, the late great theatrical Renaissance man Geoffrey Holder, musical genius Quincey Jones, her manager Helen Kean, the legendary Bill Evans and, of course, peppered here and there are the names of such dance legends as Alvin Ailey, Lester Horton, John Butler, Arthur Mitchell and her cousin, the first Black ballerina hired at the Metropolitan Opera, Janet Collins. After all, as one critic said, eight decades is an awful lot to pack into a show. But what a show it makes. Joining de Lavallade on this magical journey are dancer Maggie Small, music director Jane Ira Bloom, pianist Dominic Fallacaro, bassist Dean Johnson, drummer Billy Drummond and, of course, anyone who knows what a delight this show is going to be. De Lavallade says all she wants is for folks to “sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.” How could we do anything but?

For more information, visit www.jazz.org.