Mr. Roberts spent a week in mid-September rehearsing with Empire students, and will add other young dancers from the area later. Heâll travel from New York to work on the show, even as he prepares his first piece for the Ailey troupe, âMembers Donât Get Weary,â set to premiere on Dec. 8 during the companyâs season at New York City Center.
After the Empire rehearsal, Mr. Roberts joined Ms. Fraser-Logan and her daughter Brooke, 23, at their house, where he stays when in Miami. They sat in the kitchen, eating leftovers, telling stories about his teenage appetite, his wariness of her dogs (âwhere I came from dogs bite you,â he said), how he dressed up as a cartoon character for Carter, Ms. Loganâs 7-year-old son; and how he coaxed Brooke through adolescence. (She will be his choreographic assistant for the Ailey piece in New York.)
Close as they are now, Mr. Roberts and Ms. Fraser-Logan come from different backgrounds. Mr. Roberts and his two brothers grew up in Goulds, a poor neighborhood he described as regularly torn by gunfire and drug busts. His family moved often, living with relatives when they couldnât afford their own home. After Hurricane Andrew destroyed their house in 1992, he said his parentsâ drug use made his familyâs already chaotic home life untenable.
âWe just got poorer and poorer,â Mr. Roberts said. âNights were really dark and heavy.â
He found an escape in sixth grade, when he was transfixed by a dance performance at his school holiday show: girls in sparkly purple dresses whirling to a syrupy Disney tune.
âMy whole world changed,â he said, laughing. âThey were spinning and…