The Life of Louis Falco
A Brief Profile Of A Career In Dance
"Everything I am, everything I create," he declares, "comes from what my family was and where I was born. I don't think there's any getting away from your heritage."
"I think my works were gutsy," he said. "It comes from growing up on the Lower East Side. I don't have the same taboos as other people. I don't censor. I have a certain freedom that others don't."
Louis Falco, a native New Yorker born of southern Italian immigrants and raised on the streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side, achieved in his rich, colorful lifetime, stellar international acclaim as a modern dancer and choreographer. He was best known as an electrifying, charismatic performer who was "simply one of the most exciting male dancers in the world", and for the repertory he created for his own Louis Falco Dance Company, for works commissioned by other world renown dance companies, and perhaps most significantly, for his choreography of the 1980 motion picture "Fame".
An extraordinarily gifted dancer and breathtaking performer, Louis Falco made a tremendous impression from his earliest professional appearances as a dancer of distinctive presence and superior technique. In 1966, P.W. Manchester, writing for Dance News, described Falco as "...an extraordinary dancer. He has a total physical, mental and emotional involvement in every role. He also has that sense of daring, that pushing of technique to the very edge of danger, combined with a supreme confidence in his own prowess which is usually found only in one or two of the greatest Russian classicists." Two years later, Walter Terry writing for the Saturday Review, would also acknowledge Louis Falco as "one of the finest young modern dancers anywhere in the world."
As a distinguished featured dancer from 1960 to 1970 with the Jose Limon Dance Company, through hundreds of incomparable performances with his own legendary Louis Falco Dance Company, by way of his heralded 1974/75 guest appearances dancing opposite Rudolph Nureyev in Limon's "The Moor's Pavane" on Broadway, to his farewell performance with Luciana Savignano at La Scala Opera House in Milan in his sweeping masterpiece "The Eagle's Nest" , Falco's twenty-three year professional dancing career thrilled audiences throughout the world and inspired many generations of young dancers internationally.
"It seemed as if he could do anything," recalls Carla Maxwell of the Jose Limon Dance Company. "He had a very exalting, youthful energy, like a wild horse that needed to be tamed. There was exuberance and vitality and flexibility and playfulness."
Louis Falco was introduced to the New York modern dance scene of the 1950's at The Henry Street Playhouse where he studied briefly with Murray Louis and Alwin Nikolais. He attended the High School of Performing Arts and, even before his graduation, Falco performed with the company of American modern dance pioneer Charles Weidman, who was an early inspiration to the budding young talent.
In 1960 at the age of 17, he was invited to join the Jose Limon Dance Company. That began a ten year career as a featured dancer often in roles Limon had created for himself. During his first three years with the Limon Company, Louis toured the United States, South America and the Far East, yet his restless ambition also led him to pursue performance venues with the dance companies of Flower Hujer, Alvin Ailey and Donald MacKayle.
It was 1964 when Jose Limon singled out Falco to succeed him in the role of the Bull Fighter in "Lament For Ignacio Sanchez Mejias", a role created specifically for Limon by his mentor, Doris Humphrey, one of the founders of the American modern dance movement. In the years to follow under the auspices of Jose Limon, Falco would originate principal roles in other Limon classics, perhaps most notably, that of Pegasus in "The Winged". His decade-long association with Jose Limon was one of the great choreographer/dancer relationships in the history of modern dance. But Falco wanted more.
"I grew up in a modern dance world where choreographers were gods and dancers were subservient expressions of a particular philosophy or school of thought."
"One of the things I set out to do was to deal with dancers on the stage so that they maintained their identities as individuals."
"The main difference is that Limon always dealt with majestic heroic figures -- like Jesus Christ, Othello or whatever. Jose was very majestic himself and would come on like a king, and he conducted life accordingly. With myself in the works I have created I feel more of an anti-hero."
In 1967, while still a star with the Limon Company, Falco emerged as a choreographer of exceptional promise by presenting the first full evening of his own works as Louis Falco and A Company of Featured Dancers at New York's 92nd Street YMHA. By 1970, Falco had created a stunning, unique repertory including "Argot", "Huescape", "Timewright","Caviar" and "The Sleepers" which would eventually lead Clive Barnes of the New York Times to deem the young, upstart Louis Falco Dance Company as "the most exciting new modern dance company to emerge during the last decade."
"...'Safe, non-threatening dance turns me off. I explore identity, confusion, manipulation, whatever defines our character'...."
"In terms of movement style, Jose was a great influence. I felt his movement offered the most freedom and most potential in terms of my own interest in developing a dramatic language."
"I would love to create earthquakes onstage."
In developing his own individual movement trademark, Falco extended the fall and recovery principles of his Humphrey/Limon heritage to an explosive, physical extreme. His company of technical virtuosos reveled in the sheer joy of performing high-spirited, risk-taking movement, coloring it with a sense of natural ease and oftentimes, sensuality. Falco's early experimentations of integrating natural behavior and dialogue with his vivacious, highly controlled yet abandoned movement style gave the impression that "His good-looking,technically gifted dancers moved across the stage as ordinary people who happened to communicate with one another through movement."
With his dynamic, unsurpassed partnership with Jennifer Muller, whose choreography for the company included "Tub", "Nostalgia", "Rust" and her signature masterpiece "Speeds", and later, with the lyrical, thoughtful choreography of Juan Antonio, Louis led his company on tours in cities throughout the world where critics declared the Falco Company as "....the most adventuresome and stimulating modern dance company anywhere in the world." (London), "...very elastic, soaring, occupying space without seeming to know earth.... they are animated, with perpetual movement, with difficult moments never erasing their smiles. They radiate the happiness of dance." (Paris), "Dance, as well as theatre, of rare perfection," (Amsterdam), "They are beautiful, they are young, they are very, very talented. The dancers....are enjoying a tumultuous success, matching the great ovations of the past. Even if they do not have what one would call a big name, even if Louis Falco is not dancing... the shouts, the rhythmic applause, the bravos! would make Nureyev envious." (Milan)
During the prolific 1970s, Falco's approach to choreography raised more than a few eyebrows among New York dance critics. Falco Company performances became increasingly more difficult to categorize as noted by Clive Barnes in a 1973 New York Times review -- "This is a lovely company that annoys, more or less equally, the modern-dance traditionalists and the modern-dance avant-garde. I find this company outrageous but fun."
Trend-setting, and always the embodiment of the pulse his times, Falco was celebrated as the essence of a contemporary artist. His stylish image was enhanced through decor and costume collaborations with popular artists such as William Katz, Stanley Landesman, Marisol and Robert Indiana, with program designs by Andy Warhol, with eclectic rock and jazz musicians Burt Alcantara, Bobby Cole, Michael Kamen and David Sanborn, and the clothing designers Giorgio Armani and Michael Vollbracht. In 1977, Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times referred to The Falco Company as "the ultimate in disheveled chic" and went on to write "the Falco Company was tuned in to its generation. It was concerned with 'lifestyles' -- a word that came into fashion at the same time the company became fashionable itself. Some people, not entirely approvingly, called the group popular, Some called it pop."
Controversial as well as outspoken, Falco's irreverent enthusiasm to push the boundaries of modern dance drove him with unapologetic candor to respond about his approach to his work and his view of the state of the art.
"Some people don't want to see a table full of food. They feel it's being wasted. Some people can be upset by so many images, so much energy, so many ideas. But that's what my work is."
"Modern dance has been basically doom and gloom. It's changing, thank God. Dance is growing up."
"I wanted to make dances that were a part of our lives and I wanted to use the popular music we listened to while living those lives."
A man of "tempestuous charm" with "smoldering good looks" and a powerful, yet sensual physicality, Falco and his company dancers also brought to the modern dance stage an unabashed sexuality, glamour and haut culture.
"I didn't want people to look like dancers on stage. I wanted them to look like people who dance. I didn't want to see their hair in tight little buns and didn't think there was any reason why some of the most beautiful people in the modern dance world had to go on stage in ugly little leotards and tights and bad makeup, and look unattractive and grovel on the floor. I wanted that to change. I didn't think modern dance had to have that stigma. I wanted to make it more accessible."
"At times, we definitely are sexy, so that's right on to say so. But if someone wants to say it's all just sexy and chic and they put it in that category, there's nothing I can do about that. All I can say is I don't feel my work is about that. I feel that those are aspects in my work. They're definitely there."
Throughout its fifteen year existence, the Louis Falco Dance Company, always comprised of dancers from diverse ethnic backgrounds, performed extensively throughout the United States, Europe and Canada with tours also to the Middle East, the Far East and Mexico. The company appeared at such major dance festivals as Jacob's Pillow, the American Dance Festival, Spoleto Festival in Italy, the Holland Festival and Avignon, France.
In the early 1980's, Louis returned to his ancestral homeland of Italy to tour his illustrious company, to choreograph original productions for La Scala Opera Ballet and to create a series of national television shows for RAI-TV entitled "PhotoFinish." His tremendous success in Italy was a phenomenon many in that country will never forget. Vittoria Ottolenghi writing for Paese Sera after viewing the Falco Company's 1982 season at Rome's Teatro Olympico proclaimed, "Louis Falco dances America. Louis Falco is America." And others wrote:
"Louis Falco, superstar. Few people knew him when he was invited to La Scala in 1980 for the creation of The Eagles Nest. Today, his name is known even to the large audience that, until recently, reserved the "sold out" sign for the great stars of classical ballet."
"The name of Falco, dancer, choreographer, has become, in a very brief time, a trademark of great renown, more even than a style, that not only pleases the eye, but suggests, beneath the lines, unseen secrets of enchantment and success."
As Falco's interest in film, television and large scale productions grew -- with such evening length projects as the 1983 "Leonardo's Room" created for Milan's Teatro Carcano in celebration of Leonardo Da Vinci -- Louis disbanded his company in order to devote all his time to more commercial endeavors and freelance choreography. The Falco Company's final performance in New York City was at the inauguration of The Joyce Theater on June 1st, 1982 and in March of 1983, the company was gone.
Louis created twenty-one pieces for the Falco Company, as well as ballets for other dance companies throughout the world. Consequently, many of his creations were never seen in the United States, including "The Eagle's Nest" and "Nights In A Spanish Garden" for La Scala Opera Ballet, "Tutti-frutti" for Ballet Rambert, "Cooking French" for the Ballet Theatre Contemporain de Nancy, "Jack-In-The-Box" for the Tanz-Forum der Oper der Stadt Köln and "Reunion in Portugal" for the Gulbenkian Ballet.
Falco also created four original works for the Netherlands Dans Theater entitled "Journal", "Eclipse", "Caterpillar" and "The Lobster Quadrille", for the Boston Ballet, "The Gamete Garden", and "Caravan" for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Australian Ballet.
The Louis Falco Dance Company repertory has also been performed by the Paris Opera Ballet, The Lyon Opera Ballet, the Netherlands Dans Theatre, the Gulbenkian Ballet, MaggioDanza Firenze, Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the North Carolina Dance Theater and the Sydney Dance Company.
Louis Falco's involvement with motion pictures began with MGM's "Fame", a movie which seemed to capture the soul of young performing artists and of the New York High School of the Performing Arts itself. Creating a worldwide sensation as a dance film, "Fame" was soon followed by many other movies that sought to incorporate the same level of energy in dance. Falco went on to choreograph sequences in other motion pictures including "Angel Heart" with Lisa Bonet, "Leonard Part IV" with Bill Cosby and "Off and Running" with Cyndi Lauper.
Falco was one of few modern dance choreographers to make a successful leap from the stage into choreographing extensively for the music video and advertising industries. His work for MTV included "Kiss" for Prince, "Why Can't I Have You" for The Cars and "Country Boy" for Ricky Scaggs. In 1986, he was recognized for his choregraphic excellence by the advertising industry for a series of award winning television commercials.
Louis spent the remaining years of his life writing and developing projects for film, television and the stage, but his dream of becoming a film director and producer was cut short by complications related to AIDS on March 26th, 1993. When questioned in his last interview in March of 1992 -- while working on his final ballet "Nights In A Spanish Garden" for La Scala Opera Ballet in Milan -- about having abandoned his modern dance metier for more commercial pursuits, Louis responded:
"No, I love dance, and have been involved with it for thirty years," he says. "I would never give it up. It's like one of those relationships that you can't get away from, and you aren't quite sure why. It's because you wake and you think, 'I love this person.' That's why we've stayed together for thirty years."
Before he passed away, Louis Falco entrusted the artistic direction of his repertory to Alan Sener, long-time choreographic assistant and a former principal dancer with The Louis Falco Dance Company.
For more information about this exciting dance legacy, refer to The Repertory of Louis Falco. Anna Falco-Lane (Executor) may also be reached to answer specific inquiries about the repertory's availability and licensing through the Contact Information page.
And follow the The Louis Falco Dance Company link to learn more about this historic modern dance troupe.
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