Steps on Broadway takes aspiring artists and professional performers outside of the classroom setting, onto the stage, and behind the scenes with events produced by the nonprofit, Steps Beyond. Steps Beyond offers artists the opportunity to showcase their talents in performances presented to the community and to learn about their profession through discussions and workshops with music, theater, and dance professionals in their Artists Talk Series. Under Artistic Director Diane Grumet, Production Manager Bradley Shelver, Special Events Producer Patricia R. Klausner, and Publicist Audrey Ross, Steps Beyond presented Francesca Harper in The Look of Feeling on November 16th in the Steps Studio Theater.
Written, choreographed, and performed by Francesca Harper and narrated by Hope Clarke, The Look of Feeling is a tribute to Francesca’s mother Denise Jefferson. As the Founding Director of The Ailey School at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Denise Jefferson held the position of being the school’s director from 1984 until her passing in 2010. She worked closely with Mr. Ailey in making the studio an internationally celebrated and highly regarded establishment. Ms. Harper embodied the spirit and energy of her mother through song, dance, spoken word, and video clips. Hope Clarke wove in and out of the story with Francesca sharing anecdotes of Ms. Jefferson’s life, career, and accomplishments. Opening with the end, and then working its way back and forth from the beginning to the present, the audience was taken on a journey filled with emotion and a vibrant personality. Both Ms. Harper and Ms. Clarke charmed the audience with their incredible talent and dedication in telling Ms. Jefferson’s life story. It was a breathtaking experience to see it all unfold and to feel as though we had been there when it was happening.
At times The Look of Feeling showed a light-hearted side as the two danced, spoke, and sang to express what was happening, but there were shades of sadness as serious life events came to play. Throughout it all the performances were full of energy and expression that were touching and inspiring. From the portrayal of one of Ms. Jefferson’s dreams of being a performer through a French song and the feeling of the “joie de vivre,” to the seriousness of Ms. Jefferson’s time in the hospital and her cancer diagnosis, all was told with honesty and moving emotion. The familiar sounds of Louis Prima’s song “Sing, Sing, Sing” were heard throughout the theater in the “Hospital: The Musical” number filled with exuberant energy, bringing a softer vibe to the serious aspect of what was happening. The sound of a heartbeat was heard in “Sonogram” as the audience was carried toward the end of the show and the power it held over all as it faded out and into video clips of Ms. Jefferson. So much beauty in her and all she accomplished.
Following the performance was an Artists Talk with the performers, Bradley Shelver, and moderator Patricia Klausner. When asked what her journey was like to bring The Look of Feeling to the stage, Ms. Harper said that she was exposed to a lot, and that “art gives strength — Work through grief, and create.” When doing the piece, both Ms. Harper and Ms. Clarke felt that Ms. J (as many fondly called her) was always around, and it was a very personal work they found fulfilling. Ms. Harper knew she wanted to do a piece with her mother, and made voice recordings of her that were included in the video footage. “Manifest creativity and vision. Mix different art forms– seamlessness of dance and text.” Many past and present Ailey dancers and students filled the audience this night and shared their personal recollections of Ms. J. A fitting and touching tribute to someone Ms. Harper personally held close.
***To learn more about The Look of Feeling and any future performances, or to read more about Francesca Harper and her projects, visit www.francescaharper.com
***To learn more about upcoming Steps Beyond events visit www.stepsnyc.com/steps-beyond
– Anne-Allegra Bennett
Theater Dance Student & Administrative Assistant