Recently, the Tony Award-winning Dancer, Choreographer, Set Designer, Director, Costume Designer, Painter, Lecturer, Composer, Writer, Singer, and Actor Geoffrey Holder passed away at the age of 84. Yes, that’s a rather long list of titles, and these are only the ones I had direct experience with.
I was fortunate to have spent many years working with Geoffrey, both in music and in the written word. Geoffrey and I had completely opposite creative processes, which is probably why we made such a good team. I tend to have a more linear and logical approach to creativity (often to a fault) whereas Geoffrey had…well…I would describe it as more of the “butterfly” approach – grabbing little bits of ideas here, there, and everywhere, and throwing them into a pot to come up with a good stew.
Generally speaking, my contribution to the process was to take these disconnected pieces out of the stratosphere and impart at least some kind of order to them so the end product wouldn’t be too incoherent to the audience. It made me realize that while he needed some of my order, I certainly needed some of his “butterfly” so my creations wouldn’t be too rigid, structured, and ultimately flat.
You never knew what was going to happen when you were around Geoffrey. I once even found myself dining with him, Pierre Cardin, and the heir to the French Throne, Louis Bourbon, at the U.S. Consulate in Paris. Geoffrey was so beloved there that we couldn’t even walk down the Champs-Elysees without being stopped every few feet by admirers telling him how much they loved his work.
But mostly I remember spending time with him while he painted. It’s not often you get to watch a painter practice his or her craft, as it tends to be done under solitary circumstances, but he said he liked to paint with people around because it inspired him.
Inspiration – that’s what his life was all about. There were very few (if any) areas of the arts in which he didn’t participate at some point. Everything he saw, read, heard, or experienced was for him a source of inspiration to be stored in a bottomless repository and one day drawn upon in some way to create something.
In every lecture I heard him give, he stressed that we should never lose our ability to see the world as if through the eyes of a child, because to a child everything is new, interesting, and inspiring.
Too often, those of us who make a living in the arts forget this. We forget that it is inspiration that drives the art, and that inspiration is all around us all the time.
Geoffrey never forgot this, and his endless inspiration inspired everyone around him.