It Takes Two Choreographers to Tango for Life
Carmen and Geoffrey (2009)
No couple has shaped modern dance as wholly as Carmen de Lavallade and Geoffrey Holder. Over the course of their five decades of marriage, they have ascended to the upper reaches of their shared profession as both dancers and choreographers. Ms. de Lavallade, who worked closely with Alvin Ailey and served as her husband’s principal muse, and Mr. Holder, Tony winner for “The Wiz,” are indelible cultural icons and worthy subjects for the documentary “Carmen and Geoffrey” by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob.
However, at a thin 72 minutes compounded by long clips of performances, the film doesn’t take the time to do them justice. There is the foundation of an individual feature in each fascinating life, so providing just over an hour for both necessitates a lot of glossing over. The cutting between the professional journeys of each figure occasionally feels awkward. Ms. Atkinson and Mr. Doob seem to have sought to accumulate as much detail as possible without really probing any of it. Still, they incorporate a lot of history into the brief running time, from Ms. de Lavallade's and Mr Holder’s beginnings as up and coming artists through the formation of their unshakable bond and their joint ascension into the upper echelon of the dance world.
The first battle to be fought in making a documentary is to pick a compelling subject; the filmmakers have two. The simple act of getting the fiery Carmen and gregarious Geoffrey to open up about their careers, the higher purpose behind their art and the symbiotic nature of their collaborations, both personal and creative, justifies the entire venture. Further, the film offers an effective primer into the ways their proudly physical work, rooted in the cultural legacies of Africa and the Caribbean, impacted the field of dance and the larger conversation over the proper modes for depicting the African-American experience.