Antonio Douthit-Boyd talks about his career at Alvin Ailey
Antonio Douthit-Boyd lights up Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Thu Nov 21 2013
I wonder why he was interested in Ailey.
I don’t know. When we spoke to him, he was like, “I always wanted to work with the company.” It all worked out. They wanted a new work, but because of our short rehearsal time... This process has been unbelievable. He came in the first day and cast the ballet and left. We haven’t seen Wayne since he cast the ballet in June or July. Antoine [Vereecken] has been with us, and he’s phenomenal. It’s almost like hearing it from Wayne’s mouth. He keeps saying, “Take everything I say, but know that next week when Wayne comes in, it’s going to be totally different.” We get a week with him, we’re off for Thanksgiving and then we premiere it.
What is your part?
I open the ballet with Linda Celeste Sims. It’s weird partnering. It’s not the traditional “you pick the girl up, you put her down”; he tries to explore dance in outer realms—if these are your fingertips, he wants you to go way out there, and when you’re working with a partner, he wants both of you to do this within the strenuous partnering. It’s hard. That’s an understatement. But it’s going to put the company in a good light.
How is it out of the norm?
We are a very athletic company, but you’re going to see the athleticism and the ballet technique with the modern-dance technique that you don’t normally come to see the Ailey company do—like [Jiri Kylian’s] Petite Mort. You think, Oh, ABT or City Ballet would do that. It’s pushing us that way. We are a repertory company, and we can do these things. It’s not that we have to do just Revelations or just Ron Brown. It shows the audience, Oh, they can go from doing Ron Brown’s movement to Wayne McGregor’s movement; it puts us up there where more choreographers will be like, Oh I would love to see what I could do with that company. Not that they haven’t been doing that, but it gets broader.
It’s developing more, it really is.
I would definitely say so. Over the last three or four years, Robert [Battle, artistic director] has brought some works that make dancers hungry to dance. Just the fact that we’re going to do Chroma and Petite Mort in the same season—it’s like, I’m not in a contemporary ballet company, but I’m still in the company I love to dance for; and on top of that, we’re still doing all of the other dances that makes this company relevant. It makes me very happy.
Because it feels like you’re in the world of dance and not the modern dance—
Bubble. Definitely. Dance evolves; why can’t the company evolve with the dance? Robert asks us, “What are you looking at this week? What companies are you seeing? What do you want to do?” He’s very good at trying to find out what our interests are.
Do you go and see a lot?
I see a lot of dance. Sometimes I’m like [to Kirven], “Can we not go tonight?” Just because we do so much dance. I’m going to be completely honest: Sometimes you can’t really enjoy it, because you’re trying to pick apart this and that. You’re always putting yourself in dancer mode, so now when we go to the theater, we have to find something to inspire us to go back to work the next day. You can’t go with, “Her foot wasn’t pointed” or “Her leg wasn’t straight” or “Did you see, she only did two pirouettes?” There’s so much more; we don’t know what the dancers went through during the day. They may have hurt themselves. The audience shouldn’t see the background story, but there’s a lot that goes into getting to the stage. Sometimes when someone stumbles, you have to be forgiving. We dance through injuries; you never know who’s out there dancing injured. Now I go into the theater, and I’m like, relax. If something doesn’t go well, you can’t be like, Well I don’t ever want to come see this again. [Laughs] But I tend to see a lot of dance.
I would love to see more Twyla Tharp on this company. And Alexei Ratmansky.
I think he’s a genius. And it’s weird, because he pushes out a lot of ballets every year—you would think after a choreographer has done so much that he wouldn’t know how to reinvent himself so quickly, but he finds a way to do it. I really enjoy watching his work.
For some reason, I think his work would be good here: he is all about precision, but also really getting into the floor and using weight—ballet dancers don’t all have that, especially at ABT. City Ballet is better dancing his work.
It’s the speed. City Ballet has the speed. They’re not afraid to be gutsy. Maybe one day he’ll give us a shot. I would love to do it. We’re gonna put that in the universe.
You never know. Maybe he sits around googling himself. Going back to Chroma, did attending McGregor’s ballet class help you nail his energetic way of moving?
I would say no. [Laughs] His movement is almost alien—it’s almost not human. You know humans are doing the work, but then you look at it and go, How the hell did he get them to do that? I don’t think anything prepares you for it other than throwing yourself into the work. And I am blessed that they gave me Linda. She’s a workaholic. We’ll pull ourselves out of ballet class at 11:30am and go upstairs and rehearse before we start rehearsal at noon. If we’re having a problem the day before, we’ll figure it out the next day. It’s really good to have a partner who you don’t butt heads with. I’m working with her a lot more this year. We’re doing “Twin Cities” in The River, which is the last pas de deux.
Have you danced that part before?
No. I’ve done every other role in The River. This is my third time bringing The River back since I’ve been in the company. It’s the last duet in the ballet, and there are two pools of light. The woman dances in one pool, and the man dances in the other. At one point the pools of light go away and you see the dancers in the center of the stage. Mr. Ailey set the ballet on ABT, and the movement is so organic. It’s what you don’t normally get out of his work. I love The River. It shows his choreography in a different way; it’s not your Blues Suite  or Masekela [Language, 1969]. It’s so balletic, but it’s also so modern dance. He was genius. Balanchine was genius as well: how they could infuse the two and make it work for the genre they were in. When Mr. Ailey set it on ABT, the dancers were in pointe shoes, but when he put it on flat, he made a lot of adjustments for the Ailey company. But now that the dancers have evolved, Chaya is pushing us to do the same timing ABT did in a pointe shoe, where you can move much more quickly than you can in a flat shoe. He pushes the girls in “Vortex” to do more pirouettes and to push the timing so that it’s original. I’m excited. This version is really fresh. Chaya went back to really old videos. So what I thought I knew, I didn’t know. He said, “If you want to see this version, look at this tape.” The timing was exactly what he said it was. Fast. [Laughs] A lot faster and a lot more musical.
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I am so proud of Antonio. What a beautiful article and insight to what it feels like to be at the top of your game. The article is so well-written, I feel like I'm sitting across the table from his at Starbuck's getting an update from an old friend. Wishing you continued success in your career and can't wait to see you, again, onstage. From a proud St. Louisian! Best wishes always.