Ailey II appoints new artistic director

Ailey II, Alvin’s second company Ailey American Dance Theater, has a new artistic director, Francesca Harper, the company announced on W...


Ailey II, Alvin’s second company Ailey American Dance Theater, has a new artistic director, Francesca Harper, the company announced on Wednesday.

Harper, a dancer, choreographer and director whose career spanned the worlds of ballet and Broadway, may not have danced with any of the Ailey companies, but she is no stranger to the organization. Her mother, Denise Jefferson, ran Ailey School from 1984 to his death in 2010. Harper didn’t just attend dance classes at school; she practically grew up there.

“I’ve always admired the way she conducted her career, becoming a baby Ailey, but then forging her own path,” said Robert Battle, artistic director of The Ailey Company, who along with Bennett Rink, executive director from the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, chose Harper for the role. “She’s an inspiration to be bold and try different things. The other part is just her as a teacher: she has this nurturing quality that is so important. I think she has the right amount of empathy, but discipline, to convey.

As a young dancer, Harper, who begins her new job on September 7, was drawn to ballet. Alvin Ailey, who had known her since she was little, encouraged her. “He used to walk around in socks which was really fun,” she said. “He would walk into the student lounge and ask us all the time how we were doing, what our grades were. I remember complaining that my feet were too big. And he said: ‘Francesca, to better balance. Never be embarrassed by your feet.

Harper became a member of the Dance Theater of Harlem and William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt. She said Ailey told her, “‘You still have a house waiting for you.’ And here I am, isn’t that something?

Harper, whose Broadway credits include “Fosse,” “All Shook Up,” and “The Color Purple,” has been teaching at Ailey School for over two decades; she has choreographed two works for Ailey II and one for the main company. Since 2005, she has been leading the Francesca Harper project, but will give it up.

During the pandemic, she kept herself busy, but working behind the camera: she produced 16 virtual films.

Harper first became interested in cinema in Frankfurt when Forsythe incorporated it into his work. “It has also been one of my passions,” she said. “I could sit and edit in front of the computer for hours. It’s similar to choreography for me.

Battle said he was drawn to this artistic spectrum. “As we start to develop this digital footprint in collaborations with different types of artists, companies and platforms,” he said, “she’s already looked into that.”

Harper succeeds Troy Powell, who was forced to quit her job last summer over allegations of “inappropriate communications” with mature students in the company’s training program.

Ailey II will return to the stage in December with the Ailey Company’s annual season at the New York City Center, in which she will perform in Ailey’s “Memoria” and present her own 2022 season in New York City from March 23 to April 3 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, as well as a tour of the United States.

While some members of Ailey II join the mainstream, there is no room for all. Harper, who called herself a “Contact Queen,” has connections across all facets of the dance world. Connecting dancers with directors and companies is part of the job she enjoys.

“This is what I also saw my mom do, and she just had such a blast,” Harper said. “I think it’s really fair to make those dreams come true. You fall in love. I know that I will fall in love with these members of the company and I want to make sure that I take care of them.

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