The Francesca Harper Project is a study in diversity. The company’s dancers span an array of ethnicities, body shapes and movement style—though they all share impressive technique and fierce stage presence.
“Diversity has always been part of my mission,” Harper says. “It’s important to me to have all races and body types represented. When people come to see us, they can relate to the performers. They can see themselves onstage.”
But the company’s diversity doesn’t end with its dancers. At an FHP show, you’ll see pointe shoes alongside bare feet, and tutus next to blazers and booty shorts. Harper incorporates video and text, with some of the text generated by the dancers. She even plays with unconventional uses of space: During the company’s fifth-anniversary season at NYC’s Joyce SoHo in June 2010, performers seemed to dance as much against the theater’s walls as they did on the stage.
“Francesca’s work is very cutting-edge. You don’t know what’s going to happen next,” says dancer Mary Carter, who joined FHP in the summer of 2009. “The work always comes from the heart. We’re dancing for way more than ourselves—it’s about humanity and connecting with others.”
A NYC native, Harper studied at the School of American Ballet, the Joffrey School and The Ailey School. She went on to perform with Dance Theatre of Harlem, William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt and on Broadway in shows including Fosse and The Color Purple.
She draws inspiration from all of those experiences. “My mom [the late Denise Jefferson] directed The Ailey School for 25 years, and so I always carry Ailey’s spirituality with me,” Harper says. “But Forsythe and [playwright/actress] Anna Deavere Smith have had the most profound effect on my art-making.” She also cites Pina Bausch and Ronald K. Brown as influences. In terms of movement vocabulary, “we start with a classical ballet base, and then deconstruct from there.”
FHP has performed at the Holland Dance Festival, the Venice Biennale and at numerous NYC locations, including Harlem Stage, New York City Center and even in the middle of Times Square. In November, FHP shared the stage with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Martha Graham Dance Company at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, in a celebration honoring Denise Jefferson. See the company this month as part of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference in NYC, and March 6 and 7 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater.
Pictured: Francesca Harper Project company members (L to R) Mary Oguri, Courtney Henry and Natasha Diamond, by Jacob Pritchard.