Francesca Harper

Francesca Harper

Artist-in-Residence Fall 2013, Fall 2015 & Spring 2016
Francesca Harper


Francesca Harper is an internationally acclaimed multi-faceted artist. After being named Presidential Scholar in the Arts and performing at the White House, Francesca attended Columbia University for a summer studying philosophy and computer programming, but could not deny a passion inside that moved her to pursue a professional career as a dancer.  Francesca joined the Dance Theater of Harlem’s Junior Company that same summer and then joined the main Company the following year.  Francesca performed soloist roles with the Dance Theater of Harlem, the Hostess in Bronislova Nijinska’s Les Biches, and as a soloist in Swan Lake.  After Dance Theater of Harlem, she fell in love with the choreography of William Forsythe.  She joined his Company quickly started performing lead roles and was promoted to Principal in William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt.  While a member of Ballet Frankfurt, Francesca was chosen to perform with designers Issey Miyake, and Gianni Versace, and to perform in a film, Dancing Pleats, a 30 year retrospective of Issey Myake’s design work in Japan. She performed Miyake’s and Versace’s fashion shows in Paris and Milan as well. She was also spotted signing on the Frankfurt stage and subsequently invited to record her first single, Slow GrooveSlow Groove was produced on a compilation album and distributed in Europe and the U.K.  She self-produced her own album, Modo Fusion, currently available on iTunes. She first tested the waters choreographically by creating her first full evening of work, Dark Violet Light Stone, commissioned by The Holland Dance Festival, while she was still a member of Ballet Frankfurt.   

The vastness of her artistry and her hunger led her back to New York City for Broadway productions including Fosse, The Producers, All Shook Up, The Frogs, and the Tony nominated treasure The Color Purple. As a member of the Color Purple she understudied the roles of Shug Avery and Squeak, and she booked her first Principal Broadway Roles as Helene in Sweet Charity and as Judith in Sophisticated Ladies. She also created her first play that appeared at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York, 50 minutes with Harriet and Phillis, produced by Anna Deavere Smith.  She created in with her aunt, Pulitzer Prize Winning writer Margo Jefferson and Paul Miller a.k.a DJ Spooky. Most recently she was invited to develop a new character for the interactive show Sleep No More, where she sings every week at The McKittrick Hotel in New York City as Jazz Vocalist, Cecilia Robertson, aka Ceci.

Harper has choreographed works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Tanz Graz, Hubbard Street II, Dallas Black Dance Theater, and her own company, The Francesca Harper Project, which was founded in 2005. Her TV appearances include Boardwalk Empire, David Letterman, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Harper also served as ballet consultant for the feature film, Black Swan, by Darren Aronofsky, and starring Natalie Portman. Portman went on to win an Oscar for her performance in the film.  Francesca 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.

Francesca’s mother, Denise Jefferson, served as an inspiration and mentor for Francesca teaching work and giving back to the community.  Her mother served as the director of The Alvin Ailey School for over 26 years.  Denise Jefferson created the Ailey/Forsham B.F.A program, which changed the landscape for young aspiring dance artists by providing dancers the opportunity to obtain college degrees while continuing to pursue careers as a professional artists.  Francesca’s mother was an example of courage and compassion for her daughter, and since her passing she remains a beacon of inspiration as Francesca continues to strive forward as a professional artist and teacher.

Harper enjoys her appointment as an adjunct professor at New York University, an Associate Professor at Barnard College, and continues the vital role of teacher and choreographer for The Ailey School, Fordham University’s BFA Program, and the Susan Batson Studio. SBS is led by Acting Guru and Obie award winner Susan Batson, who serves as Acting Coach for Nicole Kidman, Oprah Winfrey, Juliette Binoche, Tom Cruise, Liv Tyler, Usher, Lee Daniels, Sean Combs, and many more.  Batson also served as the directorial consultant for The Look of Feeling, Francesca’s One Woman Show based on the life of her mother, Denise Jefferson. The Look of Feeling, Premiered Off Broadway in The Spring of 2014.  The Look of Feeling received critical acclaim as a piece rich in truth and authenticity." –

The Look of Feeling had its International debut, in Vienna, Austria, at the Impulstanz Festival in July, 2014. The critically-acclaimed show will make appearances around New York City with the debut of two new Chapters, featuring live music and the dancers of The Francesca Harper Project, in 2016. The Francesca Harper Project has become the platform for Harper’s own artistic vision: classical dance forms deconstructed and fused with cutting-edge text, music, film and video. The company has toured Nationally and Internationally at venues including the Holland Dance Festival, Venice Biennale, NJPAC, Impulstanz, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Joyce Theater.

Francesca continues to create and perform meaningful works inspired by her mother and her own experiences. She is committed to works rooted artistic expression, empowerment, and social awareness. She is grateful for the daily opportunity to do what she loves and is passionate about inspiring others to live their dreams.