Geoffrey Holder’s Banda dance debuted in the 1954 Truman Capote/Harold Arlen musical House Of Flowers. Holder the Baron of The Cemetery (based on the Haitian Loa of Death Baron Samedi) received both a performer and choreographer credit in the program. The Broadway musical takes place somewhere in the West Indies during Mardi Gras weekend.
The cast of the musical was a who’s who of African-American talent including Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Juanita Hall, Ray Walston, Carman de Lavallade, Alvin Ailey, Ada Moore, Arthur Mitchell, Walter Nicks Louis Johnson, and Glory Van Scott. Oliver Messel won the Tony Award for Best Scenic Design, the show’s only nomination. The show closed on May 21, 1955 after an impressive run of 165 performances.
Geoffrey reprised his role as The Baron in the 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die. Banda was an audience favorite in the repertoire of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, Donald Williams excelled in the role originated by Holder.
On a personal note:
During the 2012 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater New York season the company revived Holder’s 1964 classic Prodigal Prince. The Caribbean tale with uncluttered (and bright) lighting and strong theatrical overtones was not only classic Holder, but one the best works presented that season. It still spoke to the audience in a clear strong dance theatre voice without tricks and gimmicks. The combination of good choreographic form and design, ritual, art, theatre and a dash of genius has allowed the work to remain powerful defying time.
Holder was sitting behind me as the lights came up a crowd friends and well-wishers gathered to congratulate him. I waited until everyone had left then congratulated him and ended our conversation by saying, “It was wonderful, but I like Banda better”. He paused then slyly smiled and said, “You have good taste”.