Francesca Harper, Artistic Director

Francesca Harper began her professional dance career with Dance Theater of Harlem, after having performed at the White House as a young Presidential Scholar in the Arts, and subsequently was a member of William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt (1991–1999), becoming a Principal Dancer in 1994. In Europe, she was chosen to perform with designers Issey Miyake and Gianni Versace and to perform in a film, Dancing Pleats, that was a 30-year retrospective of Issey Miyake’s design work in Japan. She also performed in Miyake's and Versace’s fashion shows in Paris and Milan. Following a vocal performance in Frankfurt, she was invited to record her first single, Slow Groove, which was produced on a compilation album and distributed in Europe and the U.K.  In 2006, she self-produced her own album, Modo Fusion, currently available on iTunes. Her first full evening of work as a choreographer, Dark Violet Light Stone, was commissioned by The Holland Dance Festival while she was still a member of Ballet Frankfurt. 

Ms. Harper has performed in Broadway productions including Fosse, All Shook Up, and The Color Purple, and starred as Helene opposite Molly Ringwald in a national tour of Sweet Charity (2007) and in Judith Jamison’s role in a revival of Sophisticated Ladies (2009).  She also created her first play for the Cherry Lane Theater in New York, 50 minutes with Harriet and Phillis, produced by Anna Deavere Smith, with her aunt, Pulitzer Prize- winning writer Margo Jefferson, and Paul Miller a.k.a DJ Spooky. She debuted her critically acclaimed one-woman show The Look of Feeling as a writer, actor, dancer, and vocalist in 2014 in New York City. She was invited to develop a new character for Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, jazz vocalist Cecilia Robertson, a.k.a. Ceci, as well as several other roles in the innovative, immersive production. In 2018, Ms. Harper was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical by Broadway.com for her role as Billie Holiday in a production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.     

Her television appearances include Boardwalk EmpireLate Night with David Letterman, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She also served as ballet consultant for the feature film Black Swan (2010), directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for her performance.  Ms. Harper was also a featured performer in Zinnias – The Life of Clementine Hunter directed by Robert Wilson, touring internationally with the production. She received a Living History Award in 2013 during Black History Month from Long Island University and the Innovation and Technology Award for her choreography for Fashion Week with designer Louis Vuitton. She is the writer, producer, composer, and narrator of the documentary film To Lillian (2021). 

Ms. Harper has choreographed works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Dance Theater of Harlem, Hubbard Street II, Tanz Graz, and many more companies, including her own The Francesca Harper Project, which she founded in 2005. The Francesca Harper Project has performed at venues including La Biennale di Venezia, Holland Dance Festival, Harkness Dance Festival, The Colors Festival in Stuttgart, Central Park Summerstage, New York City Center, Harlem Stage, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Joyce Theater. Ms. Harper served as movement director for Nick Cave’s The Let Go, commissioned by the Park Avenue Armory, which received a Bessie Award for Outstanding Production. Ms. Harper is a long-time artistic collaborator with MacArthur Foundation “genius award” visual artist Carrie Mae Weems, rock star Nona Hendryx, multimedia artist Carl Hancock Rux, and Margo Jefferson. Ms. Harper was awarded a two-year choreographic fellowship with Urban Bush Women, providing support toward her dance-theater work An Unapologetic Body, and a Fellowship at The Ballet Center at NYU. Recent engagements include serving as co-director and choreographer for the musical Rose’s War and as movement director for Tommy Hilfiger and Zendaya for their fashion show at the Apollo Theater in fall 2019.

During quarantine, Ms. Harper was the creator and directorial consultant for 16 world premiere virtual films. Her latest works include a new creation for Wendy Whelan, Associate Artistic Director of New York City Ballet, and renowned poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Ms. Harper is currently engaged as Executive Producer with Sony Pictures on a series in development.

As an educator, Ms. Harper has served as a Professor at The Juilliard School, an adjunct professor at NYU, a former associate professor at Barnard College, and a professor in the Ailey/Fordham BFA program. She recently received her Masters of Fine Arts degree from Goddard College.

Featured News Releases

Ailey II Celebrates Golden Anniversary Season At The Joyce Theater April 9 - 14

NEW YORK – March 5, 2024 — Fresh on the heels of a successful world tour, Ailey II, the celebrated second company to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, returns to The Joyce Theater from April 9 – 14 with a golden anniversary celebratory program. During the eight-performance engagement their “dynamic movement and dazzling technique” will shine in premieres by Artistic Director Francesca Harper and the exciting duo of Baye & Asa, Amadi ‘Baye’ Washington and Sam ‘Asa’ Pratt, alongside repertory favorites and revered classics by beloved founder Alvin Ailey, William Forsythe, and Artistic Director Emerita Judith Jamison.

Ailey II, The Next Generation of Dance, Leaps Into Its 50th Anniversary With A World Tour And New York Season

NEW YORK – January 4, 2024 — Ailey II, the next generation of dance, will mark its 50th anniversary of bringing “off-the- charts energy” to the stage by embarking on a world tour from January 20 – May 19, inspiring audiences from Rotterdam, Netherlands to Kansas City, Missouri. The gifted ensemble of rising stars will then return home for a celebratory New York season at The Joyce Theater, April 9 – 14, 2024. The second company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will present a diverse repertory including two world premieres, by Artistic Director Francesca Harper and the dynamic duo of Baye & Asa, alongside repertory favorites and revered classics during the 2024 tour and New York City engagement.

Ailey II - The Next Generation Of Dance - Returns To The Ailey Citigroup Theater For Two-Week Season March 22 - April 2

NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 23, 2023 — Ailey II, the renowned second company to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, will return to its home, The Ailey Citigroup Theater, for a highly anticipated two-week season—the second led by Artistic Director Francesca Harper—featuring 14 exhilarating performances from March 22- April 2. The gifted ensemble of rising stars will treat audiences to two dynamic programs, Poetic Motion and Empowered, spotlighting works by founder Alvin Ailey, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Robert Battle, William Forsythe, Francesca Harper, Andrea Miller, and former Ailey Company member Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish.

Featured Press Coverage

TheNewYorkTimes_AileyII_TheJoyce_50Years_Feature_PRINT_04.07.24

The New York Times - A Proving Ground Always in Motion

Ailey II, the second company of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, turns 50 this year. Since its creation, some things have remained consistent: It has always served as a bridge between student and professional life. It has always been filled with ambitious young people aspiring to join the main troupe. And, as members of every generation agree, the experience has always been demanding — extremely so.

Pix11_AileyII_TheJoyce_FrancescaHarper_BluesSuite_Broadcast__04.04.24_NOTEASERS

Pix 11 - Celebrating 50 Years Of Ailey II

Francesca Harper, the artistic director of Ailey II, joins PIX11 to discuss the upcoming Golden Anniversary program at the Joyce Theater celebrating 50 years since the dance company was founded. Harper also brings along dancers from the program to give a preview of the upcoming performance.

DanceMagazine_AileyII_FrancescaHarper_WhyIDance_Feature_PRINT_March2024

Dance Magazine - Why I dance

My relationship with dance has been defined by witnessing. It began at an early age within the vibrant walls of the dance studio. It was more than a space of movement; it was my haven, a second home sculpted by the passion of my mother—Denise Jefferson, a devoted student and teacher of Martha Graham’s technique, and eventually director at The Ailey School. She was passionately devoted to her craft.