The past, present, and future of Antonio and Kirven Douthit-Boyd
They joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater six months apart in 2004, became a couple during their second year with the company, and got married in 2013. Now – to the great dismay of Ailey's numerous admirers – Antonio Douthit-Boyd and Kirven Douthit-Boyd will be departing the troupe together, moving on to direct the dance program at a vibrant St. Louis arts center.
But first, there's the upcoming two-week Ailey season
at Lincoln Center (June 10 -21), which will give New Yorkers their last chance to watch these two dynamic, contrasting dancers perform their wide array of leading roles. Over the years, they have both shared roles and danced side by side, and they will both be featured in this season's world premiere of <em>Exodus</em> from hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris.
As distinctly different dancers, the two bring contrasting qualities and emphases to their work. Kirven, 30, is more compact – an explosive, precise performer. Antonio, 34, is lanky and fluid, dancing with sensual elegance and understated intensity. Both committed to dancing at an early age and found success quickly. And both felt destined to dance with Ailey.
"I grew up watching this company and have always wanted to be here," says Kirven, sitting with Antonio at Ailey's midtown headquarters. A Boston native, he first saw an Ailey performance in 1998, when he was already studying dance at the Boston Arts Academy "I was floored. I never even thought that dance like that was possible. That changed something in me."
He found his way to the Ailey School, joined Ailey II in 2002, and entered the main company two years later (as Kirven Boyd) at 19. "When I was young in the company, I was watching all the senior men dance the roles that I would love to be doing," he recalls. "And then to get to a place where you're trusted with those same roles!"
Meanwhile, Antonio Douthit, from St. Louis, had become serious about dance after he began studying at the Center of Contemporary Arts (COCA) in St. Louis. His training led him to ballet, and he joined Dance Theatre of Harlem at 19. However, he says, "I always had my eye on Ailey," and when he learned of an emergency audition, he made sure to get there.
He was promptly hired. "Once I got here I was overwhelmed with all of the repertory this company does," Antonio says. "You join and go on the road two days later, and you get to do this great rep all over the world. You can't get this experience anywhere else."
Both dancers experienced a major transition in leadership. Judith Jamison, who led for more than two decades, was artistic director when they joined. She retired in 2011, and Robert Battle took her place.
Both men are enthusiastic about the way Battle has been diversifying the repertory, bringing in works by unexpected choreographers and challenging the dancers to extend their technical and stylistic reach. "Every year it gets better and better," Antonio says. "Chroma
was out of this world for me," referring to the fiercely contemporary work by Wayne McGregor, originally created for the Royal Ballet, that Ailey dancers have made their own.
"It's a very different time now for the dancers in Ailey," Kirven adds. "It's great for Robert that he has such a fresh group of dancers; he can turn them into everything that he wants the company to be."
As they prepare to wind down their Ailey careers, the Douthit-Boyds are moving on an arena that excites them just as much. New York's loss will be St. Louis's gain, as they take over the dance program at COCA – the ambitious arts-education organization where Antonio himself took lessons during high school. In fact, the two have already established a strong connection with COCA, which serves everyone from toddlers through high school seniors. Every January for the past nine years, when the dancers get three weeks off after their five-week winter season in New York, the couple has "vacationed" at the Center as guest teachers. Now they are filled with big ideas for expanding and enhancing what it offers.
"COCA is an after-school program, [and] about 80% of the students who go there are scholarship students." Kirven says. "It's not conservatory-style training, but we think that's where they're headed.
We definitely want to bring more structure to the curriculum, in terms of how we train the kids.
So we can then bring in the resources that we know, as far as choreographers and guest teachers."
Some COCA students attend dance classes recreationally, but there are also more serious students who dream of following the path Antonio took. As he explains, "We have a group of kids in the Pre-professional Program who sign a contract, who say they want to be professional dancers. We work with them to make sure they follow that track. We are very fortunate at COCA in that, for the last four years, 100% of our senior class have graduated into college programs for dance."
So as the Douthit-Boyds prepare to enjoy their final months as Ailey dancers – after Lincoln Center, a month-long tour to Paris will mark their final appearances with the company – they're facing their next step with great anticipation. "It's been a natural progression," Antonio says. "We gave more thought to what we would want our positions to be and the kind of work we would want to do there. We had the conversation with the executive director, and she made us an offer. It was just the right timing."
Kirven adds, "We came to this decision because we both wanted the same things out of life. We could dance here for many more years. The company is changing, and that's great. But I think that we both feel that it's time to be doing this other thing with our lives."
Susan Reiter regularly writes about dance for TDF Stages
Top Photo: Antonio Douthit-Boyd (left) and Kirven Douthit-Boyd; photo by Andrew Eccles.Wedding photo by Ellyxandria Ferguson.