MY TRIBUTE TO FRANCO DRAGONE
I never knew Franco Dragone personally, but he was certainly the main influence who indirectly placed me on my path of becoming a performing artist. It was my introduction to Cirque du Soleil in 1991 that changed the course of my life. I was freshly out of coll... [more]MY TRIBUTE TO FRANCO DRAGONE
I never knew Franco Dragone personally, but he was certainly the main influence who indirectly placed me on my path of becoming a performing artist. It was my introduction to Cirque du Soleil in 1991 that changed the course of my life. I was freshly out of college having finished my competitive gymnastics passage with a degree in fine arts and was planning to pursue the bohemian lifestyle of being a painter seeking gallery representation. Graduation from college was supposed to be the time I planned to single-focus-build my painting career. Then a show called, Nouvelle Experience by Cirque du Soleil, directed by Franco Dragone, interrupted everything. There were other influences that followed from the equally enchanting world of contemporary dance, but Franco Dragone’s creation was the very first intervention that destroyed my former trajectory. It was the MOAB for me, the Mother Of All Bombs.
I never missed a Cirque du Soleil show after that, and each one seemed to out-do the previous ones, consequently reinforcing my conviction and will power to soldier on with this performing artist’s life. I gained many friends along the way who had worked under Franco Dragone, and I was thirsty for their stories and devout adulation to the man. I formed a mythical idea of him as sort of a terrible living God that you desperately didn’t want to disappoint. I thought if there’s anyone living whom I should emulate, and/or pretend to have on my shoulder as a guide to my artistic life, it would be him. Yeah, I created that version of, “what would Jesus do?”. 🤣
I’m still hungry to hear peoples’ personal stories of Franco Dragone, but fortunately I was to have one of my own. I didn’t know the full significance of my meager story until I read Shana Carroll’s tribute to Franco (which I recommend reading on her page). Shana emphasized how often he was known to say, “WHO ARE YOU?” in the creation process with his subjects. I saw that repeated in another bombshell story related by Nancy Mallette. This insistence on his part to exhume from all the cultural dross, the heart, the real; what touches the finger upon the vulnerable core in order to evoke an authentically moving expression, was imprinted in artists everywhere, like in this Franco-ism captured by Mathieu Lavoie, “Don’t be a dancer, don’t be an actor. Be real.” And his ruthless evisceration of the ego-persona that we have invested so much into hiding behind, was declared in this Franco-ism shared by Shana, “The ugly can be beautiful, but the pretty never.” All that is consistent with everything I’ve heard about Franco over the years. Of course it makes total sense he would ask that question repeatedly, “WHO ARE YOU?” to disturb the banal disguises that shield us.
And if we don’t have a clue, sometimes he supplied it… “You are fire, you are the burning sun, you are the source of all energy in the universe… Now that you know who you are, take the stance that is your rightful power, take it.”
Well, I did have my day to meet the man. It came after I had been courted by Cirque du Soleil and my duo was hired for the creation of their first and only adult show in Las Vegas to be named, Zumanity. I was fortunate to have been hired for the act I personally created with my partner, and we became a prominent marquee feature of the show. This came about in 2003, three years after Franco had left Cirque du Soleil to build his own name-sake company, Dragone. In 2005 Franco was launching in Las Vegas the second production of his own called, Le Reve (The Dream), and because of many interconnected friendships I found my way to the after-party of the premiere for that show. That’s where I spotted Franco, and with determined resolution I made a bee-line across a ballroom to introduce myself to a living legend. I didn’t know if he had come to see Zumanity or not, so after expressing—with much restraint—my absolute delight and honor to meet him, I explained who I was and what I was doing in Zumanity. He was politely attentive and when I finished my short introduction, he said what can only be understood now in retrospect as the most soul-stunning statement I could ever receive. The man who asks of artists, “WHO ARE YOU?” to see if they will sacrifice their own flesh to the stage. He said to me, “I know who you are.”
Then Franco complimented my creation and performance. That wholesale acceptance nearly took my breath away, and I humbly expressed what a privilege it would be to stand at his service someday. That was the end of it, my one and only meeting with Franco Dragone. Subsequently, in the years following my departure from Zumanity I was contacted by the Dragone team for two separate opportunities (Juste Pour Rire / Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, and TABOO cabaret in Macau) which sadly I was unable to accept because I was lacking an available, trained partner on both occasions.
Such a powerhouse of creative vision we may never see again. But I was contemplating the supernatural, the mystical consequences of his passing when I saw what Debra Lynne Brown wrote, “Now you are everywhere… Yes, everywhere… deep in the belly of every life you’ve touched…” Perhaps nobody else but Debra shared as much creative synergy with him, I’m just guessing. And now his brilliant soul is not contained in just that one body, but shared in all our bodies. On reflection, my story of meeting Franco is just starting to make sense. But still there are sad regrets.
Inevitably the name, Franco Dragone, comes into my conversations about artistic creation frequently. In the past three weeks before his passing I spoke about him with Karl Baumann, Jesus Villa, Yves Decoste, and a young circus student, Emily Farnsworth. How could the revolutionary and globally influential world of “Nouveau Cirque” even exist without him? With Franco it was so far beyond circus, a title like that is a misnomer, almost an injustice. To be fair, I’m told the “Nouveau Cirque” movement had already begun, but the firecracker team at Cirque du Soleil coupled with Franco’s paranormal vision delivered it to the world in a distinctively, unparalleled, massive, thermo-nuclear wave that eclipsed all others. It engraved on my brain, and that goosebump, awe-feeling became the benchmark experience to measure all others by.
As if with foresight, in his logbook, 28th September 2022, the day before he passed unexpectedly from a heart attack, Franco wrote:
“Only the will to follow your path whatever happens can block doubt, renunciation, nostalgia of time that passes.
“In these last ten years of life, long, suspended, sometimes open to the vindictive of opinion, I have opposed, always, the clarity of my human condition and the wings of my artistic ambition: collectively extract ourselves from the slump where we are rons [sp.] constantly looking for the light. Tomorrow, maybe, my loved ones, my colleagues and I will see the sun rise on a new day, without weighing on us the pain of an exhausting wait for the truth. If not, we will get back on the road and continue to build. This is what I call living as an honest man.” [less]