Antonio Douthit-Boyd talks about his career at Alvin Ailey
Antonio Douthit-Boyd lights up Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Thu Nov 21 2013
Are you dancing Pas de Duke?
Yes, with Linda. I did Pas de Duke my second and third years in the company when it came back, and I felt so out of control. I was like, Why are they making me do this? I can’t do this, this is so hard…I kept hearing Chaya say, “You can do this.” And it went away and came back, and Alicia Graf and I were doing it at different galas and things. I enjoy dancing with her; she’s my best friend. When he officially brought it back to the repertory, he was like, “Your partner’s going to be Linda now.” I was like, Okay. This is a seasoned dancer, and she’s been doing this part for quite some time. It felt like second nature; she was very warm and open to me. It was like, “Let’s try this” and “Let’s fix this timing here.” It wasn’t like, “Do what I say do.”
The pas de deux was created for Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov. How do you make this role your own when it has such baggage or history?
I think Ms. Jamison and Baryshnikov gave it their own spin, but there were other dancers who did it after them who gave it their own spin, so you kind of take a little bit from everybody. You figure out, “I’m going to add my little flair in there.” Chaya leaves it open; at the end, there’s a series of jumps that happen, and he doesn’t choreograph them for you. He says, “Do your best jump here, do your best trick there.” It gives you a little room to say, I’m going to do a helicopter here and a double assemblé there. It gives me enough space to stamp, this is mine now. Sometimes Chaya will say, “I want you to do a double saut de basque here.” I’ll try it; each time, he watches, he says, “I think you can do this.” Sometimes I’m stubborn and say, “Chaya, I’m good at this one—let me just do this jump.” He tries to push me.
He’s a persistent Japanese man.
Yeah! He’s like, “I think you can do it.” You’re like, “Chaya, there are people watching. I don’t want to try it in front of people.” [Laughs] He has a great eye for dance, and a great way of pushing you to your next level. How are you going to make yourself a lot different from what you were the first year?
Do you talk to him about things like that?
Yes. Chaya is on my speed dial. He makes me DVDs of different dance companies too. He tries to keep us relevant with what’s going on. He’s more up to date with what’s going on in the dance world than I think any of us are. He sees so much dance and has DVDs from everywhere.
Talk to me about Bill T. Jones’s D-Man in the Waters.
I saw D-Man on YouTube. It seemed very different for the company. It’s a lot like some of Mr. Ailey’s works: It’s humans doing real dance, and it’s very pedestrian, but there’s so much to it. Some of the partnering is hard; the girls are catching the guys, I have to jump into Hope [Boykin] and Alicia’s arms, and they’re trying to catch me horizontally as I jump across the stage.
I love watching Hope.
Oh my God. She’s like, “Just give me most of your weight—I know Alicia can’t catch you, but I’ll catch you.” [Laughs]
She’s so sturdy, and she catches my entire torso. For never doing Bill’s work, I’m happy that this was the first one I was introduced to. The company did Fever Swamp in ’99. With Bill’s work, you have to dive in there, but there’s so much real life you can put into his work. There’s so much of you and your human spirit. You don’t have to feel like, I have to do these five pirouettes. He makes you focus on other things, and because others have done it, you want to make sure you’re giving the story that he gave us. I’m excited to dive into that and not feel the pressure of, Oh my God, they’re looking to see if my foot’s pointed. It’s a different challenge, and I think the company’s up for it.
Do you identify with any Ailey dancers from the past?
Before I got into the company, people would say, “You remind us so much of Desmond Richardson.” I would be like, not really…
Not at all.
Two or three years ago, when I started doing “Ready” more often [“I Wanna Be Ready” from Revelations], Chaya kept saying, “You remind me so much of Dudley Williams.” I was like, What does that mean? Then I saw Dudley. He rehearsed us in “Song for You” [from Love Songs, 1972], and I saw that a lot of the traits he has, I have.
I want you to talk about your background. You started dancing late, right?
Yes, at 16. I walked into Angela Culbertson’s studio and then I ended up going to COCA [Center of Creative Arts] and I stayed there until I graduated high school, and I was also doing Alexandra School of Ballet. I went to North Carolina School of the Arts, where Melissa Hayden was like, “You know, these are high-school kids and you’re in college. If you really want to do ballet, you shouldn’t be here.” Back then, I was like, she’s knows what she’s talking about—let me go and see what I can get. Went to DTH [Dance Theatre of Harlem]; she knew Arthur Mitchell well. Mr. Mitchell gave me a job and I stayed there for three years—why am I rushing the whole story?
You’ve probably told it a lot.
We had an orientation the other day and some of the kids were like, “How did you get to Ailey?” This will tie in to that whole thing. Each year I was at DTH, I was that kind of kid that wanted to audition for everything. So I was in the corps de ballet and went to audition for the Joffrey my first year. I said, “Mr. Mitchell, the Joffrey gave me a contract. I think I’m going to leave.” He was like, “No, I’m going to promote you to demi-soloist this year—you should stay around.” It wasn’t that I kept trying to be promoted to anything; I was like, “Mr. Mitchell, I auditioned for Norwegian National Ballet. I got the job.” He said, “No. I’m going to promote you to soloist this year, you should stick around.” It looked like to everyone that I was going in with some kind of offer for him to promote me to something, but that’s not what it was. I loved DTH, but I always knew there was something else I wanted to do. I kept auditioning for these things and when Ailey had that emergency audition for one man that year, I said, I’ll see what’s going to happen. I got the job, and Ms. Jamison asked, “Do you have a job?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Where do you work?” I said, “Dance Theatre of Harlem.” She said, “No, no, no. Go talk to Mr. Mitchell. See what he says and if he says you can get out of your contract, you can come.” Mr. Mitchell finally let me out of my contract and I came—
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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.