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.
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?