Think of it as a celebratory homecoming. For two weeks beginning March 23, Ailey II, the exciting 12-member company of young, gifted and talented dancers that is the second company to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, presents its spring season at The Ailey Citigroup Theater, LIVE. Yes, Live.

Simply walking through the revolving doors into the AAADT building at the corner of 55th Street and Ninth Avenue and standing in the shadow of the towering portrait of Alvin Ailey himself after all these months is bound to feel special. That feeling promises to intensify once seated inside the jewel box theater viewing the dynamic program that features works by AAADT Artistic Director Robert Battle, William Forsythe, Ailey II Artistic Director Francesca Harper and Ailey company member Yannick Lebrun, and the talented Andrea Miller. The fact that it’s Harper’s inaugural season as head of this amazingly singular second company makes it even more of a homecoming than usual.

Universally renowned, since Ailey founded the troupe in 1974 as a showcase for merging the spirit and energy of the best young talent destined to tower over tomorrow’s dance landscape, with today’s phenomenal choreographers, Ailey II’s seasons always provide an exciting glimpse into the future of dance. That future will shine this season with programs that promise to bring audiences to the edge of both excitement and wonder with physicality that moves beyond its familiar limits, to insistent, complex rhythms.

Programs include AAADT’s Robert Battle’s “The Hunt,” “Takademe,” and the New York premiere of “Searchlight,” inspired by the relationship of Ailey II Artistic Director Harper and her late mother Denise Jefferson, as well as an excerpt of his company premiere “Alleluia,” which combines the foot stomping and hand gestures of the Baptist church with classical Baroque idioms. As Harper enhances the spirit of homecoming by bringing together works that speak to her own life’s journey, another company premiere includes William Forsythe’s “Enemy in the Figure (excerpt).” Originally created for his Ensemble Ballet Frankfurt, “Enemy,” the intensely propulsive central section of a work of the same name, oozes energy with a percussive and rhythmically driving electronic score by Thom Willem. The season also examines dance under a fresh and intimate lens in works such as Andrea Miller’s “Psūkhe” (pronounced “pSEE-hee”) with its vigorous physicality, and Yannick Lebrun’s poetic ode to French Guiana in “Saa Magn,” or
Francesca Harper’s elliptical galaxy in an excerpt of her Freedom Series, titled “Fly.”

Audiences will also be treated to Harper’s full Freedom Series, which takes us on a journey through a landscape of memories with a series of vignettes that embody and imagine a hybrid world where memory strives to influence the future. Harper describes her work as a collaboration with the Ailey II dancers “that allowed me to get to know them as well as giving them a chance to know me.” It is also a process through which she examines identity and community using a process that honors the past while envisioning a better future. In many ways it sounds like a testament to a creative style that is in the Ailey tradition, but how could it be otherwise.

Harper has the Ailey spirit in her bones. Not only was her late mother, educator Denise Jefferson, director of the Ailey School from 1984-2010 and creator of the Ailey-Fordham BFA Program, but Harper’s first creative home was the Ailey organization before she went on to a stellar professional career. “I think that the fact that I came back to Ailey and have such a longstanding relationship was a catalyst for a lot of creativity,” Harper says pointing to both her own work and to Battle’s Searchlight, not to mention the work of Andrea Miller, the other woman on this season’s roster of choreographic risk takers whose bold innovative voices inevitably produce stimulating programs.

Risk taking is also in Harper’s DNA. It has taken her from a professional career that began with the Dance Theater of Harlem and spanned the globe to include Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt (1991-1999), Broadway, Hollywood acting, writing, acting, producing, composing and more. Now, coming full circle, in a homecoming that brings her back to

Ailey II while also bringing audiences, happily, back to in person performances at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.

“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,” said Harper. “Ailey II’s mission lies in generating space for human narratives expressed through the strength, grace, and versatility of the next generation of gifted young dancers. 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.”

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