Franco Dragone… Saying Goodbye to a Creator Extraordinaire

This article, written by Liam Klenk will be available on for a limited time courtesy of

On 30th September 2022, we sadly had to say goodbye to Franco Dragone, a brilliant showmaker, a key figure of the legendary Cirque du Soleil, a cultural entrepreneur, and the founder of the Franco Dragone Entertainment Group. Yet Franco was so much more than just that. As a creator, he was in a class of his own and inspired many with his extraordinary, visionary entertainment projects. He created his shows with so much imagination and intense love for detail, his audiences were enchanted the world over.

Franco has – already during his lifetime – gone down in the history of performing arts – a history he helped shape to great extent.

This as the creator and director behind trailblazing, hugely successful shows such as Quidam, Saltimbanco, Alegria, O, Le Rêve, A New Day, and The House of Dancing Water.

In essence, over the course of his career, Franco has torn down the boundaries between traditional circus and contemporary dance, introducing the exacting requirements of top-level acrobatics and highly complex, sophisticated technology into a creative canvas as limitless as his own imagination.


Every single show he created used the language of light and movement to communicate all that is universal in human nature.

The American arts critic Chris Jones wrote in a profile for Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Arts Policy, “Franco Dragone has made a remarkable artistic contribution to urban culture in modern American history.”

Franco himself said, “I have no artistic pretensions and no ideas. What I do have is a lightning-quick gaze, an ability to grasp fleeting images. That gaze is the source of my inspiration, and it is what I look for in my relationships with friends and acquaintances, and in my relationship with the world.”

But let us start from the beginning, to pay homage to this extraordinary creator:

Franco was born in Cairano, a small village in Italy, on a December day in 1952.

At the age of seven, Franco moved to the mining region of La Louviere in Belgium with his family so his parents could work in Belgium’s coal mines.

Franco’s first memories of his arrival as a young boy was of a little house on the Rue de Binche in La Hestre – a steep, narrow road skirting the walls of the lush Parc de Mariemont – memories of colours: grey walls, black slag heaps, the white snow falling that day. It was a new landscape made up entirely of contrasts.

In an interview some years back, Franco explained that being an artist was not thought to be a serious profession by the mining community in La Louviere. Thankfully, his father was far more broad-minded and enrolled Franco in a liberal school.

As a student, Franco was taught a wide range of topics and was allowed to choose his field of interest. Fortunately for us all, the young man, a free spirit and virtuoso with his imagination, chose the arts.


In the 1970’s, Franco studied theatre at the Belgian Royal Conservatory of Mons. Starting his career as an actor in subsidized Belgian art theatre, he switched to activist theatre, or “theatre without actors.”

Franco’s earliest theatrical work was explicitly political, working as a director of theatre and film in the mode of the commedia dell’arte dramatist Dario Fo.

The theatre works he helped create expressed social situations, interpreting true stories of the homeless, drug addicts, and prison inmates, and casting non-actors who shared their stories to perform in the shows.

In this context, Franco began to teach staging, or visual expression. And he came to believe that it was “possible to do high quality shows for mainstream people.”


When Franco arrived in Montreal in 1982, he felt instantly at home. The city’s buzzing atmosphere reminded him of the vibrancy of La Louviere.

Montreal was in a political and cultural ferment. Amateur theatre was flourishing. Young people were debating the frustration ignited by the failed referendum on Quebec’s independence. Change was everywhere.

It was in Montreal that Franco stumbled upon the circus school Guy Caron had set up at the Immaculee-Conception community centre. And there he subsequently met Guy Laliberté.

That fateful encounter would not only seal Franco’s destiny but would also turn the world of performing arts upside down, opening new creative pathways never before imagined.


From the years 1985 to 1998, Franco directed nearly all of Cirque du Soleil’s most prestigious shows and played a significant role in developing Cirque du Soleil’s distinctive merging of theatre and circus performance.

In the early 1990s, Franco’s reputation grew with the production of Nouvelle Expérience and Saltimbanco. Both were non-traditional circus productions in which postmodern dance, music, and circus acrobatics were interlaced with a dreamlike narrative.

Franco’s visibility increased even further after he directed and introduced the cutting-edge Cirque du Soleil production Mystère at the Treasure Island hotel in Las Vegas.

In 1998, Franco took another visionary leap: he created the all-around amazing aquatic circus show O. A show, which is, to this day – with the exception of the recent pandemic years – solidly sold out for every single show.


By that time, Franco was seen by many as the face of Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.

The shows he created with Cirque du Soleil had single-handedly brought the contemporary circus movement into the mainstream of American entertainment.

Around the world over 100 million people have seen Franco Dragone’s creations.


In 2000, Franco split amicably from Cirque du Soleil and formed his own company, the Dragone Entertainment Group.

Franco had fallen in love with the aquatic element in shows, which provided something like an additional, fourth dimension for his ever-expanding imagination and vision.

Before creating more aquatic shows, however, he directed the Celine Dion show A New Day at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

When A New Day ended its run in 2007, Billboard reported that it was the highest-grossing resident show of all time.


In 2005, Franco debuted his fourth production on the Las Vegas Strip with the opening of Le Rêve at the Wynn.

For this ground-breaking aquatic show, he used performers mainly from disciplines related to gymnastics. Like his 1998 aquatic circus show O for Cirque du Soleil, Le Rêve made extensive use of a custom-designed aquatic stage, featuring moving lifts, water jets, fountains, rain, and even geysers.

CNN called Le Rêve a “bombastic, splashy celebration of life” with “diving feats and stunning special effects.”


To accurately list and describe all of Franco Dragone’s creations over the course of his extraordinary career goes unfortunately completely beyond the scope of this article.

Events like, for example, Décrocher la Lune in Belgium, or his spectacular installation, Le Potager des Visionnaires in Quebec City, or even the movie Alegria he directed in 1999, are only 3 of a myriad of projects and events Franco realized over the years, whilst at the same time creating unforgettable large-scale show experiences around the world.

From 2010 onwards, Franco ventured into the Eastern hemisphere.

Here is where he created his – in the author of this article’s humble opinion – biggest masterpiece: The House of Dancing Water in Macau, China.


For Franco, it was an honor to be chosen by Macao investors to change the image of their city. Lawrence Ho, CEO of Melco Crown Entertainment, was convinced Dragone would be able to come up with a creative formula with all the right ingredients to give Macao the image of a culture-friendly economic powerhouse. A goal, which Franco truly managed to fulfill with The House of Dancing Water.

A show, which dazzled and enchanted Chinese audiences – many of whom would come back several times to enter Franco’s universe again and again.

The amazing and truly out-of-this-world show was a water-themed extravaganza performed in a purpose-built theatre within the City of Dreams resort. The show performed successfully for 10 years, until the Covid19 pandemic sadly shut it down in 2020.

Other projects in China followed. The Han Show and The Dai Show.

In 2017, Franco’s show La Perle opened in Al Habtoor City, Dubai, in a custom-made 10-story theatre. Again, a water-based extravaganza, the show involves waterfalls, fires, motorcyclists spinning inside a suspended metal sphere, acrobatics into the water, and other features. It is still performing successfully as we speak.

The charismatic personality of the Dragone Entertainment Group’s founder and director was due in large part to his impertinent, razor-sharp gaze.

That gaze simultaneously created distance and intimacy, captured the present moment, turned the spectator into an ally and a witness, grasped the essence of life, and returned it to the audiences wondrous and transformed.

Not only was Franco one of the greatest creators of our time. He was also a conductor with the innate ability to recognize talent. He thus brought together the most amazing teams, leading them into performing the equivalent of perfect symphonies together.


Franco described himself as a Saltimbanco, the Italian word for acrobat. He used the word in its literal sense, saltare in banco, meaning ‘to jump on a bench.’

And, leaping from bench to bench, throughout his life and career, Franco has indeed moved freely and made no concessions.

Franco Dragone died on September 30th 2022, at the age of 69, in Cairo, Egypt.


“I want to change people’s LIVES
It’s easier to find a tree in a forest,
but let’s try to grow a flower in the desert.
Maybe it’s there where we have to go to truly TOUCH people” – Franco Dragone


We will never forget you, Maestro. Keep “shaking the stage”! Surely, the heavens will never be the same again!


Recent mentions:

The world has lost an entertainment visionary who left an indelible impression on Las Vegas. – Vital Vegas

Thank you for all the beautiful emotions you brought to this world; I have no doubt that you will continue to bring that unique touch wherever you are now. Farewell my friend. – Guy Laliberté

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Franco Dragone. 
Our hearts go out to his friends, family, and the entire Dragone organization. Franco was an industry icon. Responsible for some of our most successful productions including Nouvelle Expérience, Alegría, Mystère, “O,” and La Nouba, he has contributed invaluably to the success of Cirque du Soleil. His passing is a loss not only for his family, but for the entire industry. Out of respect, tonight’s performances of Mystère and “O” in Las Vegas will be dedicated to his life’s work. – Cirque du Soleil on Oct 1, 2022

ADIEU FRANCO DRAGONE! So sad when someone so vibrant who has so much more to give passes away so suddenly at a young 69. No one else has ever left such a legacy on Las Vegas. – Walter Milani


A look into Franco’s The House of Dancing Water:

This article, written by Liam Klenk will be available on for a limited time courtesy of

2 Responses

  1. It hurts and saddens me deeply that a longtime friend passes so suddenly. It feels so unfinisched and unfair. I cherish forever our collaborations introducing your Saltimbanco, Allegria and Quidam in Belgium, Euro 2000, KaDo, Nutcracker and Aïda. Talking with you was always an inspiration, always goodhearted, simple and honost. Your world was bases on endless creative ingenuity. Your world had no borders or boundaries. I will remember you as a genius, as a honorable, reliable and faithfull man. Franco deserves a noble price for his livetime achievement. But first of all he was a kind and good man, father, husband, friend.
    I’ll miss you. A bientôt Franco

  2. Life isn’t a straight line. It just happens. It’s got it’ ups, and downs, and creations can sometimes be a mess. Of course it is. We bare our souls.
    I wouldn’t be the designer that I am today had it not been for Franco.
    He once said, “On s’baisse les culottes, et puis c’est inconfortable, mais on’a pas l’choix. Sinon, c’est de la gesticulation”
    We were rebels!!
    Merci Franco!