Technique My Way: Antonio Douthit-Boyd
In Alvin Ailey’s The River. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.
If you’ve seen an ad or a billboard for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater this year, chances are you’ve seen Antonio Douthit-Boyd. He’s the poster boy for the company’s North American tour, which hits seven cities this month alone. (And his picture still lingers on many New York City buses after Ailey’s past winter season.) Douthit-Boyd’s long limbs make for breathtaking photographs, but even more impressive is the way he manipulates those lines onstage.
In 10 years with the company, Douthit-Boyd’s unrivaled mix of strength and lyricism has carried him through a range of demanding works, from Ailey classics, like The River, to Robert Battle’s athletic Strange Humors and Wayne McGregor’s exhausting Chroma. But no matter the role he’s performing on any given night, each day begins the same way: in company ballet class, refining his technique.
Is there a correction that you think of daily?
When I first came to Ailey from Dance Theatre of Harlem, Judith Jamison told me to never lose my ballet past. She said to continue working on all that I was before I got to Ailey, in addition to anything new that I’d learn here. It stuck with me.
What have you been working on recently?
My port de bras. I carry a lot of tension in my shoulders and I have to keep them down and relaxed. I’m most tense in fifth position. As soon as I put my arms up I’ll hear “Put your shoulders down!” from the front of the room.
When I first started ballet, I held all positions so tightly because I was trying to make them correct. Now, I realize even static positions have life in them. I have to constantly tell myself to breathe and let my shoulders fall back into place.
Is there an image that works for you?
I love watching videos of Fernando Bujones to see how he uses his arms. His port de bras was masculine, but fluid. There was no stagnant energy. Pictures of him are always rolling through my mind.
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.