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Francesca Harper’s 'Luminous'

Posted April 2, 2024

Ailey II Artistic Director Francesca Harper pays homage to five decades of the company in her newest work titled Luminous, premiering at the Joyce Theater. Drawing from memories of some of Ailey II’s renowned alumni, it chronicles the company's storied history and dedication to breaking boundaries and advocating for social change. 

The idea of using dancers’ own stories as inspiration for a work came from one of Ms. Harper’s earliest memories of Alvin Ailey. “I remember doing a workshop with Mr. Ailey and every day he would sit us in a circle and ask us what our dreams were—I must have been around 15 years old—and that's what I do with the company members. We sit in a circle, and I ask them to share their reflections and thoughts with each other. That's really the community work that's embedded in the artistic work.” 

Luminous is Ms. Harper’s second ballet for Ailey II since her appointment as Artistic Director (the first was Freedom Series from 2021). Before she began creating the steps, Ms. Harper spoke with many dancers and artists from the company’s past, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Interim Artistic Director Matthew Rushing and Ailey II Artistic Director Emerita Sylvia Waters.

I interviewed these luminaries that had danced with Ailey II and I've created this tapestry of their memories, Ms. Harper said. 

Sharing the stories of these revered dancers with the current Ailey II dancers has been especially enriching for her. “It's just been remarkable to think that for these young artists, those are memories that will always keep them grounded and make their work even more potent and meaningful.”

Ailey II in Francesca Harper's Luminous. Photo by Nir Arieli

Ailey II in Francesca Harper's Luminous. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Ms. Harper recognizes the importance of preserving and recognizing the company's past, given how easily dance is lost to time and the history of erasure of Black narratives from the record. “I think about documentation, and I'm so impressed that AILEY has documented the work and has these archives,” she said. "Especially for people of color, when we think about slavery and all we’ve lost with our history. To now have this library of documentation for the next generation is huge,” she said.

Since she took the reins of Ailey II in 2021, Ms. Harper has been in awe of the dancers and their inexhaustible enthusiasm. “What makes Ailey II unique for me is capturing these young artists at the beginning of their careers,” she said. “There is such optimism, such hopefulness, such positivity and love when they begin their journey. It's one of the most beautiful aspects of the work. I never have to ask these dancers to work hard.” 

As the company honors this 50-year milestone, Ms. Harper has drawn on the past, but is even more invested in the future. “What do I hope for the future of Ailey II? That it lives on, and on, and on, and on. It's just been so enriching to me personally to provide and keep creating this opportunity for the next generation of dance.”

Ailey II's Kali Marie Oliver in Francesca Harper's 'Luminous', photo by Nir Arieli

Ailey II's Kali Marie Oliver in Francesca Harper's Luminous. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Get Tickets to see Luminous at Ailey II’s upcoming season at the Joyce Theater, April 9-14