Gene Marinaccio was a brilliant dancer, choreographer and teacher. Each of these is described in its proper category, so what follows is a general description of someone who changed the face of dance but who is largely forgotten.
Gene was born in 1931, in Newark, New Jersey. He moved with his family to California where he began ballet training at the relatively late age of 19. After three years of study with Michael Brigante, Gene toured Europe as a soloist with David Lichine’s Ballet de la Ville des Anges. He also spent four seasons with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a soloist and was a Premier Danseur with Alicia Alonso’s Ballet de Cuba.
Back in Los Angeles, Gene took what was available for dancers at the time, performing at the Moulin Rouge Nightclub, on television and in movies.
A brilliant dancer, Gene nevertheless wanted more than the classical repertory. His own choreography, informed by his study of many types of dance and a deep appreciation of art in all its forms led him to form his own company, The American Concert Ballet, which had its first performance in 1963, at the International Music Festival at UCLA.
Tours throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean followed, with brilliant reviews for Gene and the dancers and also for Gene’s choreography, which by now had grown from classical ballet to something deeper, more universal and more moving.
By 1969, audiences and critics were aware of a powerful choreographic voice, as Gene created works such as Adagio for Strings (later expanded to Into Light We Shall Return), The Fifth Day, Classical Symphony and Spanish Impressions. By then, he also had a successful dance studio where students learned his technique – a technique that gave them the power and range to dance, not just ballet, but virtually any dance form. Today’s dancers have that. For dancers in the last century, Gene was one of the few teachers teaching an all-encompassing, deep technique.
By the late 60’s, when Gene was becoming more and more expressive and accomplished as a choreographer, the dancers with whom he had been working had, for the most part moved on to other, more lucrative jobs. Los Angeles in those years did not support concert dance and there weren’t grants to be had. Consequently, Gene turned to the dancers who had been studying with him and created his masterwork, Cantique de la Vie. This group performed locally and also at the Delacourt Theatre in Central Park in New York, where critics were awestruck by the theatricality, beauty and power of the work.
If Cantique was a highlight, there were other wonderful performances to follow but if you’re wondering why Gene, regarded as a choreographic genius, is not better known, or why a search on YouTube reveals nothing, an event after a performance of Gene’s work, Earthtides, in 1978 is the reason why. Twelve hours after that ballet debuted at Long Beach City College, an arson fire destroyed Gene’s Vine Street Studio and, with it, all of his pictures, tapes, sets, costumes, movies… everything.
It is to be hoped that this project will bring Gene Marinaccio and his work back into the light where it belongs, if only through photographs and the memories of those who worked with him or who were profoundly moved by what they saw on stage.