American Ballet Theatre’s The Four Marys and Carmen de Lavallade

Click to view American Ballet Theatre; The Four Marys Orbit

Image of Carmen de LavalladeCarmen de Lavallade served as one of the dancers in the 1964-1965 American Ballet Theatre production of The Four Marys, with music by Trude Rittman and choreography by Agnes de Mille. In The Four Marys, she played the role of Mary Hamilton, one of the “Four Marys,” the maids of the young woman played by Judith Taylor. The young woman’s suitor falls in love with Mary Hamilton, the most beautiful of the Young Woman’s maids, and their affair produces a child. After the child is born, Hamilton drowns it and is hanged for murder, and the suitor faces no consequence.


Carmen de Lavallade and Lester Horton

Lester Horton did not choreograph for American Ballet Theatre, but he interacted with several of its performers during their training and careers. Carmen de Lavallade, one of the Marys in de Mille’s The Four Marys, began her career at Lester Horton Dance Theater at 17 years old. While a member of the company, from 1950 to 1954, de Lavallade performed with Alvin Ailey, whose company she would later join.


More about Carmen de Lavallade

Carmen de Lavallade, born in New Orleans in 1931 and raised in Los Angeles, was inspired by her cousin Janet Collins to take up dancing. She studied under Melissa Blake and Carmelita Maracci, and her performance career began at age 17 with Lester Horton Dance Theater, where she danced with her high school friend Alvin Ailey. She also studied acting, painting, sculpting, music, and design, as Horton encouraged his dancers to interact with other art forms as well.

Also alongside Ailey, de Lavallade performed in House of Flowers on Broadway, the musical that introduced her to her husband, Geoffrey Holder. In 1956, she was featured in Samson and Delilah and Aida at the Metropolitan Opera.

De Lavallade also appeared in several television shows, off-Broadway productions, and films including Carmen Jones (which featured several members of Negro Unit of Ballet Theatre) and Odds Against Tomorrow, among others.

She toured with Ailey’s company in Europe and Asia, a tour which was sometimes billed as “de Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Company,” and performed in Agnes de Mille’s The Four Marys and The Frail Quarry with Ballet Theatre (now known as American Ballet Theatre). She was a principal dancer with both John Butler’s company and with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, following in the footsteps of cousin Janet Collins.

De Lavallade taught at the Yale Repertory Theater and Yale School of Drama as its resident choreographer and performer.

Her choreography credits include Porgy and BessDie Meistersinger, and Rusalka for the Metropolitan Opera as well as pieces for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Agnes de Mille, Alvin Ailey, Glen Tetley, Lester Horton, John Butler, and Geoffrey Holder have all created roles for de Lavallade. She also “holds the record for the longest performing career at Jacob’s Pillow,” which ran from 1953 to 2014. Her awards include the Dance Magazine Award (1964), an honorary doctorate from Juilliard (2007), the Duke Ellington Fellowship Award, and the Dance USA Award (2010).

Ailey said of her, “Whatever you want her to dance, she will find a way to do it. Choreographers also love her because she has a solid technique and a brilliant, unsurpassable talent for interpreting a ballet.”



Women in Dance: Carmen de Lavallade, Jacob’s Pillow
Carmen de Lavallade, Wikipedia
Carmen de Lavallade, The Kennedy Center
Biography: Carmen de Lavallade, Thirteen

Ryan Crants



Madeline Crawford


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