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Dance Comes to Powell Hall: Q&A with Kirven Douthit-Boyd

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

Kirven Douthit-Boyd is a dancer, choreographer, and Co-Artistic Director of Dance at COCA. This season, he’s collaborating with the SLSO to produce the first choreographed performances of composer Anna Clyne’s cello concerto, DANCE (September 25-26).

As a choreographer, which comes first, music or dance?

Kirven Douthit-Boyd

You know, it’s so funny because sometimes I have an idea of what I might want to create. But nine times out of ten, I find sound first. I’m inspired by music and I’m inspired by pieces of art or literature. The way that I craft dance and move dancers in space is always inspired by music, so for me, I love to have sound first.

What do you think of Anna Clyne’s DANCE, and how it sounds?

It’s so beautiful. Such a beautiful work of art, and interesting. The Rumi poem is very simple, but also so deep and poignant and—there’s despair, but also a lot of beauty within that.

There are all these things I’m thinking of as I’m beginning the process of crafting movement for this work. I can only imagine the way that hearts will swell when everyone hears the orchestra and sees bodies in the space. I’m really excited for all of it.

SLSO audiences might not be as used to seeing live dance as hearing live music. Any tips for them, what to watch for, how to interact with it what they’re experiencing?

Just enjoy. Enjoy the whole experience.

Part of the reason I moved to St. Louis six years ago is because there’s a lot of potential for great dance to thrive. I hope that the folks who come to Powell Hall to hear music get involved and engaged in some of the other artistic practices that are happening in the region. I hope it will inspire them to come see what we’re doing at COCA, what’s going on at other dance companies and arts organizations. I hope it generates that interest.

Is there a movement you were particularly excited to choreograph?

I’m very excited for the first movement, “When you’re broken open.” My husband, Antonio, will be performing a solo to that. He’s a beautiful dancer, and I’m honestly just excited for the entire collaboration, to get in the space with dancers from different companies around the city.

Each section is so different and calls for something different from the dancers. I’m excited to explore those possibilities, to get in the studio with professional artists again, to dive into the creative process. We’ll spend all of August putting it together and rehearsing before we get into the space with the orchestra.

Dancers perform with the SLSO at the 2019 New Year's Eve concert

How long does it take to put together a work of this size, about 20-30 minutes of music?

You know, sometimes 20 minutes of dance can come together in a day, sometimes 20 minutes of dance can come together in a week. We’re working with a lot of factors here, so for each section I’m taking three days, each with an hour or two session, to put it together. Then we’ll bring it all together and work on transitions. Once that’s set, we’ll have about three rehearsals with the orchestra.

What is it like to move from a studio setting with a recording to a live music setting?

The good thing about working with professional dancers, especially at this caliber, is that they’re all used to working with live music. They understand the culture of being in the studio, hitting play, and that things might change when you get into the space with the orchestra. The tempo might be different, you might hear a trumpet when you were expecting to hear a flute—all kinds of things can be different.

This project is a great collaboration, and I can speak up on the side of the dancers and talk to Stéphane and members of the orchestra about any adjustments we need to make. It’s helpful to have that dialogue during the process to keep everyone engaged.

How does the solo cello figure into that? How does the choreography interact with that solo voice?

I’m really hoping to play to that, to bring the solo cello forward so the dancers can interact with it. Obviously the cello won’t be choreographed the way the dancers are, but I want them to be connected.

It’s really a spirit of connection and collaboration.

Yes, and we’re so honored and thrilled to be working with the SLSO and Stéphane. I hope that this is one of many collaborations that we’re able to do, bringing different folks together from the orchestra and dancers from different companies. There are so many opportunities in St. Louis for more of that kind of engagement and coming together.

To see DANCE live and in-person, visit


The premiere performance with choreography of Anna Clyne’s DANCE is supported by The Strive Fund.

Caitlin Custer is the SLSO's Communications Manager.


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