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 is currently pursuing an MFA in performance creation at Goddard College.

Featured News Releases

Ailey II - The Next Generation Of Dance - Returns To The Ailey Citigroup Theater For Two-Week Season March 23 - April 3

NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 16, 2022 — Ailey II, the celebrated second company to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, returns to its home, The Ailey Citigroup Theater, for a highly anticipated two-week season featuring 10 performances from March 23 - April 3. The gifted 12-member ensemble will treat New York audiences to three dynamic programs featuring works by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Robert Battle, William Forsythe, Ailey II Artistic Director Francesca Harper, Ailey company member Yannick Lebrun, and Andrea Miller.

Ailey II, The Next Generation Of Dance, Returns To U.S. Stages Led By New Artistic Director Francesca Harper

NEW YORK – FEBRUARY 1, 2022 — Ailey II, merging the spirit and energy of the country’s best early-career dance talent with the passion and creative vision of outstanding emerging and established choreographers, returns to stages across the country this winter. Ailey II Artistic Director Francesca Harper—an internationally renowned performer, choreographer, director, and multi-disciplinary artist—is nurturing new creative voices and propelling the Company forward during her inaugural season. Trained at The Ailey School (and the daughter of the late Denise Jefferson, director of The Ailey School 1984-2010), Ms. Harper brings fresh perspectives to Mr. Ailey’s legacy. Program highlights from the repertory for the national tour and the New York City season featuring four new works and one world premiere include dances by Alvin Ailey, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Artistic Director Robert Battle, William Forsythe, Francesca Harper, Ailey company member Yannick Lebrun, and Andrea Miller.

Ailey Artistry Reaches Across America To Bring Dance To The People In Person, Online, And Through A National Television Network Broadcast

NEW YORK – JANUARY 5, 2022 — From January 11 through May 8, audiences across the country will have the opportunity to experience the extraordinary artistry of Ailey with a cornucopia of performances and programs, including two national tours—by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II—as well as the nationwide broadcast of the acclaimed documentary film AILEY, with its immersive portrait of dance pioneer Alvin Ailey, and the continuation of Ailey All Access, the organization’s digital programming for all audiences.

Featured Press Coverage

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Avenue Magazine - Performance Enhancers: A New Wave Of Leaders Are Transforming The Dance World

Francesca Harper, Artistic Director Ailey II. The dancer, choreographer, singer, actor, producer, teacher, director and educator, as well as ballet consultant for the Oscar-winning Black Swan, became the artistic director of AIley II eight months ago, following in the footsteps of her late mother, Denise Jefferson, who directed The Ailey School from 1984 until 2010. "It feels so much bigger than me," she has said of the appointment.

CBS2NY_AileyII_NYCSeason_AileyCitigroupTheater_FrancescaHarper_Broadcast_3.26.22

CBS2 NY - Dancers Of Ailey II Return After Lengthy Pandemic Pause; "It's A Homecoming For Me," Says Artistic Director Francesca Harper

The dancers of Ailey II are back on stage after a long pandemic pause. The season returns with exciting new works and leader Francesca Harper, who tells CBS2's Dave Carlin she feels like she's just come home. Carlin had an Illuminating conversation with Harper, the renowned dancer, choreographer, singer and writer whose role now is artistic director of Ailey II. On Wednesday the season opened, and she took the stage to introduce her dancers. She has familiarity with Ailey dating back to her childhood. Her mother was a dancer and longtime educator at Ailey, and she counts as her mentors the legend Judith Jamison and Sylvia Waters. She talked about the new work she premiered for the company and how she hopes it brings people hope.

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ABC7 - Alvin Ailey Artistic Director Makes New York City Debut

In celebration of Women's History Month, we highlight a trailblazer in the world of ballet who is now heading up the next generation of performers at a dance theater in New York City. Francesca Harper is making her New York City debut as the artistic director at Alvin Ailey II on Wednesday night. Harper is following her mother, the late Denise Jefferson's footsteps. Her mother directed the Ailey school for roughly 26 years. When Jefferson was a child dreaming of becoming a ballerina, a teacher pointed out that there were none of color, and she quit. She would later return to dance, but that story stuck with Harper.