Francisco is a native of San Antonio, TX, and received a B.F.A. in dance from Stephens College for Women (male scholarship), and scholarships from the Alvin Ailey School and The Taylor School. He has been a member of TAKE Dance Company, Ben Munisteri Dance Company, Cortez & Co. Contemporary/Ballet, Pascal Rioult Dance Theater, and Dusan Tynek Dance Theater, among others. In 2009 he was featured in Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”. From 2004 – 2017 he danced in the Paul Taylor Dance Company and is now on faculty at the Taylor School. He also continues to photograph dancers and his work can be seen at www.franciscograciano.com
BDL: Tell us a bit about how you got started dancing. What was your journey to Paul Taylor?
FG: I started dancing when I was nine. My family and I were watching a PBS special during Hispanic heritage month. Evelyn Cisneros was being partnered by someone and I was so impressed with the deft partnering skills of the man that I spontaneously blurted, “I wanna do that!” My father who was Mexican said, You need ballet for that. Days later my mother had found a local ballet company with a school attached to it and enrolled me in classes. I studied there (in San Antonio) all the way through high school. I accepted a full scholarship to Stephens College for women and received a BFA in three years. I discovered Taylor there but never thought I’d have the chops for it. However, when I moved to NYC I worked hard to achieve something close to it. They say if you shoot for the moon you could land among the stars so I just followed my heart. I danced with several different dance companies and choreographers and studied on scholarships at the Ailey school and the Taylor School. While I was dancing for one of those companies Paul asked me to dance for his second company after observing me take class at the school. I enthusiastically accepted and two years later he moved me into the main company. His work always made sense on my body and my sensitivities as an artist. It offered extreme physicality and athleticism but also required a strong base of technique. Two things I’d worked hard for throughout my life. But it also gave me the chance to play with character work and acting. I’d wanted to pursue an acting conservatory after high school but couldn’t pass on that full scholarship for a BFA in Dance. I was given the greatest of opportunities working for Paul for so many years. We established a great working and personal relationship and I’ll be grateful forever for the gifts he gave me as an artist.
BDL: What interested you about working with Broadway Dance Lab?
FG: I love Josh Prince. There, it’s out. I said it. The real story is that Josh and I met several years ago when Taylor was still performing at City Center. He later married one of my closest friends in the company and we inevitably got closer on more on a personal level. We both respected each other tremendously and expressed working together some day on several occasions. When I left Taylor in July I called him and gave him my availability for the next few months and crossed my fingers that he was serious about working with me in a creative setting. Fortunately he was and believed I could do the job for the other choreographers so here I am. I have a profound respect for what he’s doing here for creatives and I really wanted to be a part of it.
BDL: How are you finding the worlds of modern dance and theatre different?
FG: Well as dancers we’re all pretty similar. There’s a similar trait in all great dancers that I’ve yet to be able to articulate but I think it would be something related to vulnerability. The dancers Josh selects all have at least that in common. I think you get to a certain level in your professional career when you realize that in order to grow and experience those penultimate moments in the craft you have to be willing to bare your soul in the creative/learning process. We’re not perfect and accepting that can have reaping benefits when you’re approaching something new. But I digress. The biggest difference that stands out to me now is the creative process. I’ve only worked a little in theatre but as a Broadway choreographer it seems apparent that the job is to tell a preconceived story through dancing (and often singing) with characters who have a clear motivation. You can certainly start the same way as a modern dance choreographer. Paul did it all the time. However, you don’t need to start creating with the scaffolding of a story. The dance could grow out of an idea, a piece of music, a gesture, or literally anything else that inspires the creator. Also, there’s a lot more room to play with the story if you’re a modern dance choreographer. If the dance maker wanted to make a change, something as simple as a look in another direction could significantly alter the story’s message. I don’t think that autonomy is as likely in theatre because there are so many creative minds working towards the same goal. I don’t think one is better than the other. In fact I think placing limitations on your creative project can be very productive. Even the best modern dance choreographers practice this. All that said, BDL is unique in that it offers an alternative by giving a little more control to the dancemakers.
BDL: The Taylor repertory includes a lot of narrative and strongly thematic works, how do you approach portraying a character in dance when you don’t have text to tell the story?
FG: I think there are several different personality archetypes that most people would recognize. For example, one who is calm will project peace, one who is angry will project confrontation. Paul is a master of giving directions to his dancers on how to approach movement that is character/story driven. Usually the direction is vague enough to allow the dancer to interpret the role for themselves. I’ve always thought though that Paul’s work is good at conveying an idea or message. What comes out of the dancers’ faces is secondary. A shape can be repeated in several different dances but have just as many interpretations. It’s the intent that the dancer projects through that shape that assists in the telling of the story or the concept of the piece.
BDL: What’s next for you after BDL?
FG: I’m taking a break from NYC for a couple of months to be with my family in Texas. We’ve been through a lot of stuff in the last eighteen years since I moved here and I have never had the chance to land there and just BE with them. Also I’m the middle of a major transition so I’m looking forward to resetting and returning with new intentions and goals. I plan on continuing to photograph dancers and performing artists of all kinds. I love teaching so I’ll remain on the faculty of the Taylor school as well. I’m still very curious about choreographing so I’m definitely going to invest more time and energy in that pursuit. My friend and current Taylor dancer, Laura Halzack, and I started a creative outlet for ourselves called Studio Three and I expect that to grow also. I’m not completely done dancing yet so I’d like to keep reaching out to people for more projects. Aside from that my modus operandi consists of digging into my creative side consistently, without judgement, and continue to learn, learn, and learn.