Ailey II returns to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade on Saturday, Feb. 25 for a program that highlights the talent and energy of dancers in the early stages of their career. The company was formed in 1974 by Alvin Ailey, founder of the renowned and highly acclaimed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
“We (Ailey II) still keep Mr. Ailey's original dream of having an experimental company alive. We're looking to see more works that are a little edgier or works that push the boundaries a bit and maybe share with the audience pieces and languages that maybe they haven't seen before, “ says Francesca Harper, the artistic director of Ailey II. Harper's mother, Denise Jefferson, directed The Ailey School for more than 26 years. “ I grew up at the school and was there when Alvin was alive,” says Harper.
“Ailey II is composed of 12 members all of whom were trained at The Ailey School. They remain with the company for two years then either they go into the main company (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater ) or go into another professional company, “ says Harper.
One of the dancers taking to the stage on Saturday is Andrew Bryant a Miami native who began his formal dance training at the Young Contemporary Dance Theatre under the direction of Traci Young Byron. This is his first season with Ailey II. “ Andrew is proving to be a real leader and a real stand-out in the company, “ says Harper.
The works being presented at the Arsht Center are "Pshke," "Enemy in the Figure," and "Freedom Series."
"Pshke" ( 2019 ) is an ancient Greek word meaning life, breath, spirit and soul. It was choreographed by Andrea Miller with music by Nicolas Jaar. Harper describes Miller's piece as imaginative and visceral with unexpected partnering and complex solos. Miller in 2017-2018 became the first choreographer to be named artist in residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is also a Guggenheim Fellow and a Princess Grace Fellow. It was created for Ailey II.
Harper's illustrious career includes being a principal dancer with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt. She refers to Forsythe as her mentor. “ The piece is important to me because he was a big part of my formative years as a young dancer. “ Forsythe's "Enemy in the Figure" (Excerpt 1989 ) is a propulsive work that has been performed by many companies. The composer is Thom Willems and he has created over 65 works with Forsythe. The piece makes radical use of light and shadow and is a fine display of the skills of the Ailey II dancers.
Upon becoming the artistic director of Ailey II in 2021, Robert Battle, the artistic director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, suggested that Harper create a signature work that showed her vision for the company. The result is "Freedom Series," a piece in which a landscape of memories creates a series of vignettes. “ I took a lot of memories growing up around Ailey. Call it abstract storytelling. These vignettes became memories of my mother, dancing on stage with friends, to the moment Alvin passed on,” says Harper.
Harper says that part of her job is to ensure that Ailey II continues to move forward while remaining true to Ailey's legacy. “ My vision for the company is to see what's next. It's important for me to curate contemporary work which is really at the pulse of what's happening now in the Modern dance world."
Ailey II’s “The Next Generation of Dance” at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25 Knight Concert Hall, Adrienne Arsht Center of the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, $30, $45, $55, $65. 305-949-6722 and arshtcenter.org