|Photograph: Breton Tyner-Bryan
YOU HAVE HAD A REMARKABLE CAREER AS A PERFORMER, CHOREOGRAPHER AND TEACHER. WHAT LED YOU TO CREATE THE FRANCESCA HARPER PROJECT?
I was lucky to have examples growing up. My mother directed the Alvin Ailey School for 26 years so I got to grow up close to Alvin Ailey himself. I was always inspired by his story and the story of Martha Graham. They both started their Companies when they were in Broadway shows to help finance their endeavors. I was performing in my second Broadway show, All Shook Up, when I started my Company. I used my salary to lay down the foundation for the Company.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST REWARDING PROFESSIONAL ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE?
Receiving my Living History Award for Black History Month.
WHICH ARTISTS INSPIRE AND INFLUENCE YOU MOST?
I would say my mother Denise Jefferson and my Aunt, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Margo Jefferson first, William Forsythe, Alvin Ailey, Pina Bausch, Arthur Mitchell, Virginia Johnson, Sarita Allen, Carmen De Lavallade, Debbie Allen, Paula Kelly, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, LaChanze, Angela Robinson, George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Cyd Charisse, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Dinah Washington and the List goes on…
WHAT BRINGS YOU JOY?
My family and love.
COMB OR BRUSH?
DO YOU LIKE YOUR NAME?
I love it, however it was a little intimidating as a child. I think I am growing into it now.
FINISH THIS SENTENCE. MY AGE IS…………….
Between 18 and death.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER TONIGHT?
Probably ordering in Thai or leftovers from my husband’s delectable, slow cooked chicken.
One of the most inspired exhibitions we’ve seen so far this fall is Dance & Fashion at the FIT Museum, quite superbly curated. It was lovely to see at close range costumes from some our favorite ballets, those of very recent years and also those from as far back as the early 19th century. It was also fantastic to learn of the work of designers I had no idea designed for dance such as Gianni Versace and quite thrilling to see iconic costumes like those worn by Martha Graham and Judith Jamieson. And it was such a treat to watch once more David Michalek’s Slow Dancing film featuring his wife Wendy Whelan that was part of the Dries Van Noten exhibition in Paris earlier this year. The catalog is well worth your time, and I imagine the two-day Dance & Fashion symposium on October 23 and 24 will be too.
Dance & Fashion will be on view through January 3
|Maria Alexandrova and Vladislav Lantratov performing Don Quixote at Lincoln Center. Photograph Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
One of my favorite things about summer is the abundance of live performances we are lucky enough to experience. Back in Saratoga Springs this week, we went to see the magnificent Bolshoi Ballet perform Don Quixote at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The costumes and sets were exquisite, the orchestra superb, and the performance thrilling. The speed, extension, artistry and athleticism of the dancers was tremendous, and quite unique to this company. And Ekaterina Krysanova, who danced the role of Kitri, truly took my breath away. Perfection.
It’s true, last Friday night we were indeed at the Katy Perry concert in Brooklyn. As you might imagine, the production value was beyond, beyond — the costumes, the fireworks, the guitar players on wires, and the BALLOONS. And Katy herself is a seriously great performer. Very girly, very colorful and very joyful, my daughters declared it the best concert of their lives. I have to agree, she has set the bar rather high…
|Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle in Christopher Wheeldon’s This Bitter Earth
Photograph by Paul Kolnik, www.nycballet.com
We were in Saratoga Springs just one night during the New York City Ballet’s residency at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center July 8 – 12. I must say, if we could only be there one night, this was definitely the one. The program consisted of four contemporary chamber works, none of which we had seen, all of which we loved. Vespro and Todo Buenos Aires were fantastic. I was thrilled to finally see Angelin Preljocaj’s first work for NYCB, La Stravaganza, after being completely taken with his Spectral Evidence last fall. However, the highlight of the evening for me was Christopher Wheeldon’s This Bitter Earth. Performed by Wendy Whelan and Tyler Angle and set to haunting, gorgeous music by Max Richter mixed with Dinah Washington’s vocals from the 1960 song of the same title, the whole is completely brilliant. And to see Wendy Whelan perform one last time on that hallowed stage before her retirement this fall, in this perfect piece created just for her, I actually have no words. I’ll never forget it.
|Akram Khan’s Dust. Photography by ASH.
This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. Commemorative events are being planned in numerous countries over a four year period, representing the length of the war itself. I was so interested to learn that the English National Ballet commissioned works from three choreographers around the theme of the first world war for their program Lest We Forget that premiered in April at the Barbican Theatre in London. Included were Akram Khan’s Dust, Russell Maliphant’s Second Breath and Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land. A friend who saw it thought it was absolutely stunning, so did a host of critics. Described as “very strong and very smart”, I can only hope it finds its way here in the next few seasons.
Take a look at the trailer for Lest We Forget here.
Although I am an ardent devotee of ballet class, I have found it increasingly difficult to get there over the past year because of my busy work and family schedule. Every part of me misses it like crazy — my mind and my body. Imagine my delight when I recently discovered Ballet Beautiful, a comprehensive fitness program inspired precisely by ballet. Created by Mary Helen Bowers, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, Ballet Beautiful can be experienced via live online classes, private training in the Soho studio, custom workouts and DVDs. Bowers has also written a rather terrific book of the same name. I have found it remarkably transformative and empowering. And her “Swan Arms” workout…WOW!
One of the most fascinating exhibitions in Paris right now can be found at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Dries Van Noten: Inspirations. It’s not quite a career retrospective, nor even a fashion exhibition, but rather, a show about the creative process of the brilliant Belgian designer himself. Contained within some 15,000 square feet, it feels remarkably intimate in its vast, two level space. The content itself, more than 400 pieces, feels intimate too — a first-time invitation into the world of Dries Van Noten and his tremendous array of inspiration which includes film, photography, fine art, music, nature and fashion, from multiple centuries and multiple countries. Cecil Beaton, Bronzino, Elizabeth Peyton, Jacques-Émile Blanche, Paul Poiret, Francis Bacon, Balenciaga. Van Noten’s far-ranging stylistic references are another important element in the installation such as feathers, butterflies, Orientalism, India and the uniform. And I loved David Michalek’s Slow Dancing film, with his wife Wendy Whelan as one of the featured performers, a special commission for this exhibition.
Dries Van Noten: Inspirations runs through August 31, 2014
I recently had the great pleasure of seeing Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq during its run at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. I certainly knew of Le Clercq — a ballerina with New York City Ballet, George Balanchine’s muse, his fifth and last wife, who was stricken with polio at age 27 while on tour in Copenhagen in 1956 at the height of her career. She never danced or walked again. I had read Varley O’Connor’s 2012 novel, The Master’s Muse, about Le Clercq. But I had never seen her dance. This lovely film, directed by Nancy Buirski, is full of wonderful footage and photographs of Le Clercq, clearly one of the greatest ballet dancers of the twentieth-century. Gorgeous and beguiling, I really didn’t have a sense of her and her tremendous legacy until this film, and I am so glad that Buirski made it. And my particular screening was made even more special by the presence of the marvelous Arthur Mitchell, former NYCB principal dancer, founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and close friend of Le Clercq who spoke of her after the film. He turns 80 this year but appears so much younger, just brilliant.
Take a look at the trailer here.
As part of the NYCB Art Series, a breathtaking installation by celebrated French street artist and photographer, JR, is currently on view at the David H. Koch Theater. In addition to the 6,500 square foot image of the company forming an eye amidst white paper sets that is affixed to the floor of the promenade level within the theater, there are also several wood panels with transferred images of the dancers and a massive, ethereal image pasted to the building’s facade. The entire exhibition is incredibly inspired and simply gorgeous to experience in person. The installation was open to the public all last week and will be in place during the winter season, if you are lucky enough to have tickets, which runs through March 2.
Check out this video about the artist and the creation of his NYCB series.