"My love for the theatre comes from a love of storytelling," Graciela Daniele says. "I believe that in life, from one generation to another, you tell stories. And to have this place where we can reach people with great art, with writers who help them understand a little more about their own lives and find connections through those stories, is a wonderful thing."
Daniele has been telling stories as a dancer, actor, choreographer and director for nearly 60 years - since age seven, when she first stepped on a stage. She is now an associate director of Lincoln Center Theater, and she has been nominated for ten Tony Awards. Her list of Broadway credits as director and/or choreographer includes Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life, Ragtime, Once on This Island, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and The Pirates of Penzance. Her performing credits include the original productions of Chicago and Follies.
Born in Buenos Aires 66 years ago, Daniele began dance lessons at age six. "I didn't know about storytelling then," she says. "I just loved dancing. And it all happened by accident. I had some problems with the arches in my feet, and my mother took me to a doctor, who said that if I did a little ballet, my arches would develop. So my mother signed me up for ballet class."
Her mother couldn't afford private lessons, so Daniele was enrolled in a school at the Buenos Aires opera house. As part of the curriculum, the children participated as extras, with no pay, in operas and ballets - "so I was onstage starting at seven in the classical repertory. I grew up surrounded by classical music, opera and ballet." She graduated at 14, when she was asked to become a soloist with a local company; at 17 she was traveling as a soloist with a ballet company around South America. The next year, she went to study in Paris. She stayed in Europe for five years - "until I saw West Side Story in Paris. Right then, I decided I had to go to New York to study. I wanted to know how to do that. I thought it was the most extraordinary thing I had ever seen - and I still do."
She arrived in the fall of 1963 and before long was in her first Broadway show - the musical version of What Makes Sammy Run?, starring Steve Lawrence. She played Rita Rio, a South American bombshell.
One of her biggest breaks came when the director and choreographer Michael Bennett saw her in a show and asked her to do Promises, Promises. She soon became his assistant. "My transition to the creative side came about because of Michael," she says.
Becoming a director happened accidentally. "I adapted and directed and choreographed Tango Apasionado downtown at Westbeth. I wanted to do something that took me back to my roots. It was well received, and everybody thought I could direct."
Her future plans? "I'm developing two new musicals," she says. One is The Glorious Ones, a story of commedia dell'arte by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, her collaborators on Once on This Island and Ragtime. The other is Pamela's First Musical, written by Wendy Wasserstein, Cy Coleman and David Zippel and based on Wasserstein's children's book. She and Zippel are continuing the late Coleman and Wasserstein's work. "I love that it's about a little girl who gets hooked on theatre," Daniele says. "Somehow I can identify with that."