Meet Two of Alvin Ailey’s Boston-Bred Dancers, Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Belen Pereyra
They’ll be in Boston this weekend to perform at the Citi Wang Theatre.
You’ve seen these ads around town before—toned, powerful dancers with seemingly gravity-defying moves are a hallmark of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Since 1970, Celebrity Series has hosted the renowned dance theater regularly, bringing its one-of-a-kind performances to Boston each year.
Earlier this month, we caught up with two of Alvin Ailey’s Boston-bred dancers, Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Belen Pereyra, who talked about their Boston-area roots, dancing in honor of two company friends who recently passed away, and what to expect from their show at the Citi Wang Theatre this weekend.
Douthit-Boyd, a Dorchester native, has performed with Alvin Ailey for 10 years. (You might recognize him from the company’s 2012 promos.) He’s married to fellow Ailey dancer Antonio Douthit-Boyd (pictured above).
So tell me about growing up in Dorchester.
Dance consumed most of my days in Dorchester. (I also lived in Milton for a bit.) I went to the Boston Arts Academy, I trained at Boston Youth Moves—which is affiliated with the Jeannette Neill Dance Studio—and I also did scholarship programs and dual enrollment at the Boston Conservatory during high school and trained summers at the Ailey school in New York.
Dual enrollment, what was that like?
During high school hours, I would go over to the Conservatory and take dance classes with the students there, and I also did summer scholarship programs at the Conservatory. It was really intimidating, but I was always the kind of kid who was really focused and really driven, so no one could have been as hard on me as I was on myself.
How long have you been with the company?
Ten years. I first saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater when I was a freshman in high school. My teacher got tickets for us, and right away I knew I wanted to do that. That initial [experience] was what put me on the right path toward achievement. I graduated from the Arts Academy in 2002, and that summer I got offered a position with Ailey II, which is the junior company of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I did that for two years, and then I joined the first company in 2004.
How has this past tour been going?
We’ve been dealing with a lot of really difficult things this past tour. We left for tour the first week of February, and we’re coming back without two of the head figures in the company. Two very close friends [E.J. Corrigan and Calvin Hunt] passed away while we were on tour, so that was really, really difficult, but the company is so strong, and we’re so dedicated to honoring their memories and honoring the vision of the company, so everybody is still holding on and trying to keep in good faith. They were great people and we’re trying to celebrate them.
What are your favorite pieces in the program coming to Boston?
I’m really excited to be doing “Pas de Duke” in Boston. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I’m a big fan of Mr. Ailey’s choreography, especially all of the work he’s done in collaboration with Duke Ellington’s music—they’re always really fun to me—so all of those ballets I really enjoy. And I also enjoy “Chroma” a lot. Technically it’s demanding and movement-wise it’s a lot of fun, and the partnering is really interesting and fast and challenging.
Do you have any go-to spots when you’re in Boston?
One of the first things that I like to do is get Chinese food because I think Boston has the best Chinese food. I always make it a point to get some before I leave. If I do have the time, I like to go back to my schools and studios, even if it’s just to watch a class or to see what the kids are up to.
Which dance studios in Boston would you recommended?
I always encourage people to go to Jeannette Neill. The studio offers so many styles of dance, and there’s also a great pre-professional dance program. If they’re more into ballet, I’d recommend the Boston Ballet. And there’s the Dance Complex in Cambridge—also just a great, great place for dance.
Do you have a signature move?
I don’t have a signature dance move, but I have been known to be a very good turner—I’m pretty good at pirouettes. That sometimes is a good thing and a bad thing, because when it comes down to casting, it’s like, “OK, who can turn? OK, Kirven can turn, put him in that.” It’s not always the role I want to do, but it’s the role that I get because I have that skill.
Pereyra was born in the Dominican Republic, but raised in Lawrence. She credits her cultural upbringing in Lawrence and Boston with helping prepare her for Alvin Ailey.
What was your experience like growing up in Lawrence?
I loved it—I felt that it was a small bubble community of strictly Latin American people, so I felt like I never lost my culture. I was very much involved in what we called Semana Hispana (Hispanic Week), which is something we do every year during the summer. It’s an entire week celebrating all Latin communities. And so that’s where I spent most of my childhood. It was wonderful!
And that’s where you got into dance?
Yes, they had a lot of arts there at the time, so there were a lot of little dance schools around. I first got involved in a Peruvian dance group, and then soon got into the jazz and ballet, but it was in Lawrence that I incorporated my Latin roots with ballet. Semana Hispana was the thing. Whenever I think back to Lawrence, those are the strongest memories.
Do you have go-to spots in the city or in Lawrence that you always want to go to when you’re back?
OrigiNation Cultural Arts Center—the place where I spent my junior year right up until I left for New York. That was home; that was my family. We performed everywhere, and I had a blast. For me, Boston means going to my high school, Boston Arts Academy, and going to OrigiNation—always.
How long have you been with Alvin Ailey?
This is my third season. I’m loving it. It’s more than I ever thought it could be. I feel like my vision on why I do this has completely transformed, and so there is more purpose to my work, which is wonderful, because dance has been such a strong aspect to my life. From the beginning to the end, I just don’t remember not dancing. So now, to have this creative purpose of being the cultural ambassadors of America—we touch so many lives, and the audiences respond so well. It’s an incredible job—I’m very, very grateful.
Can you tell me a little more about the Boston program?
I’m in “Lift” by Aszure Barton, “D-Man in the Waters” by Bill T. Jones, and some of Mr. Ailey’s classics, which are “Night Creature,” “The River,” and “Revelations,” which is a signature piece. And, honestly, my favorite is Revelations. I could do that every day and enjoy it and find new meaning every single time I approach it. As for the other two, “Lift” and “D-Man in the Waters,” they’re both dear to my heart. “Lift,” I really love the rhythm in the work, and the costumes are very beautiful and unique. In “D-Man in the Waters,” I feel like I’m five years old running in the fields. It’s a lot of fun—we get to do belly slides.
Who is your ultimate dance idol?
Camille A. Brown. I worked with her for three years when I was in Boston—she hired me. She is so dynamic, I don’t know anybody who dances like that—she’s like a little firecracker. She really knows how to play with her musicality, and working with her completely changed the way I move. She’s just breathtaking. I could see her do any work any time, and I would be in awe because she’s one of the most unique movers I have ever seen to date.
Do you have a signature dance move?
Well, I really like groovy pieces. I think because I have a Latin background, people joke that I move my shoulders a lot, and my neck is very loose. So the flexibility of my shoulders, my loose neck, and my loose hips.
It’s like a groovy…body roll?
Haha, there’s a joke term that we use. We say “genh genh,” and it’s like that African feel—that bending-your-knees, getting-really-low, loose, let-your-spirit-fly movement. There is no technical term, there’s just enjoying the rhythms of the music. I don’t know—I’ve never given it a word. We made that up, but that’s usually what I say: “I like that genh genh movement.” I guess I’d [compare it to] Ronald K. Brown’s work? Check out “Four Corners” or “Grace.”
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will perform Thursday, May 1, through Sunday, May 4, at the Citi Wang Theatre. For more info, visit celebrityseries.org.
These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.