Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
A complex multi-site merger, D8 upgrade & website management support future growth for a performing arts champion
The renowned Alvin Ailey Dance Theater faced an exceedingly common website platform issue: the end of life for Drupal 7. They needed a partner to merge three legacy sites into one while making the complex collective jump to D8 to provide good user experiences, maintain future security, and support ongoing growth.
The digital presence for this Manhattan-based organization consisted of a dance theater site, a private school site, and a public-facing instructional extension site — all on a shared Drupal infrastructure that served content to each as needed.
98% of Drupal sites are outdated.
PAIN POINTS & CHALLENGES
A D7-8 upgrade is a significant undertaking, but this large 3-in-1 migration added layers of technical complexity, content management challenges, and navigational hurdles.
Diligent planning, execution, task tracking, and communication were required to keep the many moving parts in full view for the client and internal teams.
The project took place during the COVID pandemic, when the client’s web presence became a true lifeline for offering online classes and remote resources when live performances, in-person classes, and other 1:1 interactions were suddenly halted.
Complex Challenges Meet Thoughtful Solutions
CMS Upgrade & Content Migration
This project involved re-engineering a significant portion of the sites’ back end and updating or replacing modules for D8 compatibility. To maximize efficiency, we reused existing functionality wherever possible.
Taking on a combined automated and manual migration of 1,000+ pages of content from three separate legacy sites to the new CMS, we had to carefully maintain the integrity of information that had been segmented, organized, and formatted in a tricky way based on its application to each site.
To save the client significant QA time, we examined analytics to identify the most heavily trafficked pages and direct the team on where to focus their review time for the most impact.
We also trained four client team members on how to make updates for immediate content migration needs and to set them up for long-term content management success.
A Streamlined, Cost-Effective Theme Conversion
Because D7 themes are not compatible with D8, we performed a hefty manual conversion to the D8 “Twig” format. While this was a heavy lift, it avoided a higher-cost ground-up rewrite of the front-end code. And because we did not make substantial design changes, the upgraded site maintained a familiar visual experience for users.
A 1:1 Standard Module Upgrade
We ported over 52 modules that had an established D8 counterpart and an established upgrade path.
“Trading Up” With Contributed Module Upgrades
We eliminated 14 previously contributed modules that were not part of Drupal core — and migrated their functionality into the new structure required by the D8 core. This included incorporating the new Media module, which provides centralized storage for images and related information like cropping and metadata used in custom headers and slideshows.
Adding Value Through Custom Module Upgrades
A variety of custom Drupal modules built exclusively for the original site also needed a code adjustment as well as some changes to how content was stored and structured for D8 compatibility.
A Seamless Approach to Sub-Sites
We simplified how the ancillary subsites were incorporated into the main domain.
Previously, Drupal’s Domain Access module split up the content and theme based on the top-level alvinailey.org domain, but support for this was not guaranteed in D8. We eliminated it — and its related modules — in favor of a different solution that created two distinct sub-sites with redirects within the main domain that preserved the custom look, feel, and navigation for users as they navigate from one site to the next.
Customized User Permissions Configuration
To allow domain owners to have clarity and control over managing their own content — but not other areas — we leveraged Drupal’s Workbench and Workbench Access functionality.
We recommended and implemented a variety of value-added user experience improvements beyond the baseline D8 upgrade.
Partner-Centric Project Management
Throughout the upgrade and beyond, we found ways to provide solutions steeped in principles of good partnership. That included translating our progress to non-technical client team members who were unfamiliar with dev processes and in-the-weeds jargon. With access to simplified overviews in an Airtable format, clients could view progress and get answers to common questions — “what is this, where does it live, and what is the functionality?” — without having to learn technical aspects or dev speak.
When surfacing rising blockers and risks, we gave recommendations on impacts and potential solutions that fit the client’s budget — guided by the intent to help them get the most out of the time and money they had already invested in this large-scale project.
We maintain an ongoing relationship with the Alvin Ailey team as their outsourced dev team, lending a lifeline during both big and little milestones — including helping to smooth the transition when team members leave, providing training for new members who join, and more.
Even with the D7 upgrade in place, the ability to keep this trio of large sites on a shared legacy architecture running smoothly can be a significant lift. Responding within 24 hours to a variety of ongoing web maintenance and support task requests, we handle everything from enhancing their sitemap to installing updates, squashing bugs, increasing security measures, and answering technical questions about how features work.
Larger enhancements include updating their Find a Class feature to provide users with more intuitive pathways to the classes that match their age group, schedule, and desired level of engagement — a key tool for finding and connecting with the right offerings that nurture their love of dance.