New York – September 1, 2021 – Robert Battle, Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, announced today that internationally renowned performer, choreographer, director, and multi-disciplinary artist Francesca Harper has been appointed Artistic Director of Ailey II, the Ailey organization’s acclaimed company of young dancers. Ms. Harper will assume her duties on September 7, 2021, and will immediately begin preparing for Ailey II’s return to the stage. Ailey II’s 2021-2022 season will kick off in December with participation in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s annual season at New York City Center, in which Ailey II will perform in Mr. Ailey’s classic Memoria, and will continue with the company’s own 2022 New York City season March 23-April 3 at The Ailey Citigroup Theater, as well as a U.S. tour.
Lakey Evans-Peña is a performer, educator, movement director, community advocate, and artistic mentor. Presently she serves as the Rehearsal Director for Ailey II, Rehearsal Director for the Ailey/Fordham Student Dancers, advisor to the BFA juniors, and as a master teacher of the Horton technique for the Professional Division of The Ailey School. Her teaching, rehearsing and coaching practice is centered on cultural relevance, artistic empowerment, and performance practice.
Ms. Evans-Peña received her BFA from the University of the Arts and her MFA from Montclair State University. She was a scholarship recipient at The Ailey School for two years and was selected by Sylvia Waters to dance with Ailey II. In her tenure at the Ailey School and while with Ailey II, she performed a wide array of works including those of Alvin Ailey, Ron Brown, Eleo Pomare, Hope Clarke, Milton Myers, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Kevin Iega Jeff, Kathryn Posin, and Cecilia Marta. She was chosen to perform the role of Umbrella in Mr. Ailey’s Revelations as well as the lead in his works Isba and Escapades. While touring nationally with Ailey II, Ms. Evans-Peña was asked to represent the company in an educational capacity, sharing the foundational core of training at The Ailey School by teaching the Horton technique as part of Arts-in-Education programming. It was here she discovered her love of teaching and connecting with people through movement. That spark of joy has turned into a twenty-seven-year career educating, coaching and nurturing artists at all levels.
After Ailey II, and while continuing to teach throughout NYC, she joined Donald Byrd’s The Harlem Nutcracker, a spectacular holiday production with music by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and David Berger. Following three years of national tours, she additionally performed Byrd’s choreography for the New York City Opera’s production of Carmina Burana. While continuing to work with a wide spectrum of NYC based artists, Ms. Evans-Peña started teaching in higher education, serving as artist in residence at Hollins University. She has also taught at Marymount Manhattan College, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Montclair State University, STEPS, Peridance, Ballet Hispanico, and as a Teaching Artist for Ailey Arts In Education and Community Programming.
In 2009, she founded the Williamsburg Movement & Arts Center. As Artistic and Executive Director, she developed school and community partnerships which enabled three thousand students a year to explore dance through daytime workshops and residencies. In 2013, she subsequently founded WMAAC Residencies (now renamed WRArts), a 501(c)3 organization providing quality after-school performing arts programming.
Her work as a répétiteur includes setting Mr. Ailey’s works at American Dance Festival and teaching excerpts of Revelations and Escapades for the Ailey/Fordham dancers. In 2019, Ms. Evans-Peña assisted Ronni Favors in the staging of Mr. Ailey’s Memoria, performed by The Ailey School Professional Division students in concert with
the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for their New York City Center season. She has most recently restaged and danced in Lester Horton’s 1948 duet, The Beloved, for an evening-length performance where she additionally choreographed three new works.
Currently, in addition to her work in the studio, she is conducting research on Lester Horton’s life and the development of his technique.