On March 22, Ailey II swings into its two-week season at the Ailey Citigroup Theater with two programs spotlighting a potpourri of works by a diverse group of choreographers that astonish the senses, tug at the heart strings, titillate the intellect, and satisfy the spirit. This troupe of members of the critically acclaimed Ailey II dance company will present 14 performances, with six works grouped together under two themes that tickle the imagination while conveying the essence of each evening’s presentations: Poetic Motion and Empowered.
The Poetic Motion program mixes the lyricism of an excerpt from Alvin Ailey’s The Lark Ascending with AAADT Artistic Director Robert Battle’s Alleluia, which fuses the Baptist Church’s foot-stomping, hand-clapping religiosity with classical Baroque idioms, and includes former Ailey Company member Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish’s exploration of relationships in mediAcation, as well as the physicality of an excerpt from William Forsythe’s Enemy in the Figure.
Forsythe’s piece also appears on the Empowered program, along with Andrea Miller’s unexpected partnering and complex solos in Psukhe and Ailey II Artistic Director Francesca Harper’s Freedom Series, which takes audiences on an evocative, unexpected journey.
“I think the stage is a platform for social change,” said Harper, whose creative vision is informed by a thoughtful and lifelong relationship with dance that began at a very young age with classes at the Ailey School, then headed by her mother, former Martha Graham dancer Denise Jefferson.
Harper’s professional career began with Arthur Mitchell’s Dance Theatre of Harlem before she moved on to dance with Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt (1991–’99), where she became a principal dancer in 1994. Throughout her career, she also blossomed as a talented choreographer and her work has been performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Dance Theater of Harlem, Hubbard Street II, Tanz Graz, and many other companies, including her own Francesca Harper Project, founded in 2005.
Her work has also been shared with international audiences from Holland to Stuttgart to New York City Center and Harlem Stage.
Before joining the Ailey family as head of Ailey II, Harper was involved in a diverse array of performance projects in film, recording, television, and Broadway and off-Broadway productions involving an impressive list of collaborators.
Now, in her second year as head of Ailey II, Harper continues bringing her wealth of experience, innovative vision, and passion to the troupe, providing this diverse group of young performers with experiences that offer a glimpse of the limitless possibilities available to them.
“For them to have an experience where African American’s voices are centered within a diverse community—celebrating that is very special,” Harper said.
She knows the value of representation and cites the fact that the Ailey II dancers have been able to work with someone like former Ailey dancer Rojas-Dobrish, who not only created her own choreography for them but coached them in a work she learned from Ailey himself, Lark Ascending.
Harper also noted that there is the many-layered experience of working with Battle on a work that has not appeared by any dance company other than his own former Battleworks. “To have Robert super-enmeshed in the work with them was very special,” Harper said. “For me, that experience helps concretize and continue this feeling of family that envelops the Ailey II dancers.”
Ailey II dancer Patrick Gamble agreed: “I’ve been in the Ailey building studying dance since I was 5 years old.”
While he started by tagging along with an older sister, it wasn’t long before he, too, was smitten. When it came time to apply to college, Gamble’s choice of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program was even richer still. “I like to think that program made me into the dancer that I am today,” he said. “Mr. Ailey has been known to say that he doesn’t want cookie-cutter dancers and Ms. Harper is similar. She really values creative minds, so when a dancer is able to make really innovative choices and contributions to the choreography, that’s really what she loves.”
More than that, this young dancer believes dance is about more than just steps—it is about “how we interact with the other dancers, the choreographer, and the audience,” which is an example of what makes Ailey II performances so special.
Under Harper’s wing, and, indeed, under the wing of the entire Ailey family, dancers like Gamble and other budding young talents in Ailey II have not only blossomed into impressive performers, thanks to an embracing, nurturing environment, but share something special with the audience that makes their performances memorable.
For more info, visit www.alvinailey.org/about/ailey-ii.