After being forced to pause their performances due to the COVID pandemic, the dancers of Ailey II are taking the stage once again with a new artistic director in a highly-anticipated season of performances. Ailey II returns to The Ailey Citigroup Theater for a special two-week season featuring ten performances from March 23 to April 3.
Ailey II, the second company to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, was founded in 1974 to create a nurturing community for young dance talent and make dance accessible to a larger audience. Since the company’s first performance, Ailey II has grown to become one of the most popular modern dance companies both on and off stage, with stunning performances and generous community outreach efforts.
Francesca Harper is taking over for Sylvia Waters, who held the artistic director role for 38 seasons. Harper brings diverse dance experience and a long history with the Ailey organization to her new role. She trained at The Ailey School and has choreographed work for both Ailey II and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Harper’s late mother, Denis Jefferson, was also a dancer and director of The Ailey School.
Harper began her professional dance career with Dance Theater of Harlem. She has performed in several Broadway productions, including Fosse, All Shook Up, The Color Purple, Sweet Charity, and Sophisticated Ladies. She was also nominated for Best Actress in a Musical by Broadway.com for her role as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
“It is a privilege to return to the home that shaped me as an artist to accept the honor of leading Ailey II into its next era,” Harper said. “As exemplified in this year’s diverse repertory, I am looking forward to bringing in new choreographic voices and programming works that further an ongoing cultural dialogue and contribute to social transformation.”
The 12-member company will showcase favorite works and premiere pieces, including Harper’s Freedom Series which was inspired by her return to the company that is so near and dear to her heart. The work is rooted in her connection to women who have been influential in the Ailey Organization and who opened the door that led Harper to her exciting new role. “In my freedom series, there’s a trio for three women, and those are the three women, Sylvia Waters, Judith Jamison and my mother, and they just appeared in that work, the three ladies here. Those are my examples,” she said. “They paved the way for me. And also, I think they really represent hope. It’s been a challenging time for us, but I really wanted to create a work, it’s like, OK, our hope is always there with us, that we can carry it independently and collectively.”
After the performance, Ailey II fans are invited to take their first class at Ailey Extension for free. Through Tuesday, May 31, ticket holders will have the opportunity to dance either in person at The Joan Weill Center for Dance or online from the comfort of their own homes. The company invites students of all experience levels to choose from a variety of techniques taught by Ailey instructors, including ballet, hip-hop, Afro-Cuban, West African, Pilates and more. The full schedule of classes is available online.