In an interview with Viola Hegyi Swisher that appeared in Dance Magazine’s September, 1969 issue, Gene Marinaccio said, “When I’m asked why I became a choreographer, I have to explain first that I did not become a choreographer. Instead, a choreographer became – me.” Indeed, there was always more than a creative impulse behind Gene’s work. There was a metaphysical, even spiritual force driving him. As he says in this same interview, “Throw out the graven images of dance. Study, master and respect the forms, but don’t idolize them. The mechanics are not the movement. Schooled or natural, the dancer’s line is in the dancer’s feeling, in intent and expression of movement, not in movement itself.”
After a brilliant career as premier danseur with several ballet companies, Gene formed his own company, The American Concert Ballet in 1962. The company toured nationally and internationally for the next seven years for New York’s Herbert Barrett Management and for CAMI. During this time, Gene created ballets that reflected his choreographic vision. These included:
Man, Woman and Child (Poulenc) – for a San Diego Dance Company. (All other works were created for the American Concert Ballet.)
Adagio for Strings (Barber) 1964 – later expanded into Into Light We Shall Return in 1972
Santa Barbara News Press: “Here three couples joined in an expressionistic episode that seemed to suggest at first simply the poetic sensuousness of lovers, but in the end transcended the particular and symbolized all human tenderness and response.” 1964
Spanish Impressions (De Falla/Ravel)
Santa Barbara News Press: “… impressive and evocative in the tableaux, some dramatically lighted and costumed to suggest the frescoes of Goya.” 1964
The Fifth Day (Villa-Lobos)
Daily Pilot, Newport California: “… a strangely disturbing, almost surrealistic work inspired by the Book of Genesis…”1963
Classical Symphony (Prokofiev)
St. Croix Avis, Virgin Islands: “Gene Marinaccio’s choreography was remarkable not only for the incorporation of new and contemporary ideas but more especially for the perfect blending of movement with musical motif and mood.” 1964
Ballet Reflections (Minkus)
Daily Pilot, Newport, California: “… an airy, utterly graceful showcase of ballet classique…” 1969
Gene’s ballets of that period broke the boundaries of classical dance and left critics and audiences searching for words to express what had been, for them, an astonishing experience. Ron Tunstall of Australasian Dance put it this way: “The emergence of a true and great choreographer-teacher is certainly rare at any time and place. That Hollywood … has nurtured a great creative talent, not connected to or influenced by its spurious values, in the person of Gene Marinaccio is indisputable… He is an unfettered choreographer for whom dance is not so much an art as a way of life – and more – a medium of expressing the deepest feelings of the soul.”
To see Adagio for Strings or The Fifth Day was to see ballet recreated. Gone were the preparations as pirouettes appeared as an emotional response to the music. Extensions were indeed extensions, but not just of legs and arms. It was the human body reaching for more, to express more, to be more.
After the tour in 1969, it seemed as though Gene’s vision might be thwarted. There was no money and the dancers he had worked with so successfully fled to other companies and other jobs. Gene would not be stopped, however, and he looked at the students in his stucio and determined to move forward.
These students, for the most part, did not have the perfect bodies or even extensive training. Gene, however, knew he could mold them into the dancers he needed.
In 1971, Gene’s new company (Gene Marinaccio Ballet Company of Los Angeles) premiered Buddhic Prayer (Vieille Priere Buddhique), a short piece to the music of Lili Boulanger, at Loyola-Marymount College. This piece, which Viola Hegyi Swisher said “… had the delicacy of an ancient parchment, shimmered with the richness of a golden tapestry…” was the first step in what was to become Gene’s masterpiece, Cantique de la Vie.
Cantique de la Vie was performed at UC Santa Barbara in 1973, at the Bovard Auditorium at USC, also in 1973, at El Camino College in 1974 and, most notably at the Delacorte Festival in Central Park in New York City in 1972.
Cantique is, indeed a masterwork. Audiences gave the 50 minute work prolonged cheers (eight curtain calls were the norm) and critics used words like spellbinding and transcendent.
A poet, Uri Hertz, was called upon to review the company and described this Psalm of Life in his own way: “Faces became masks of death and rebirth, appearing and disappearing amid myriad arms, legs, voices, molecular beings, demonic spirits, dream beasts and flame creatures … landscapes metamorphosed into each other, flooding the senses with a vision of crumbling civilizations … a fusion of animal and god, great journeys, fantastic revelations… through endless mists of time…”
The Hollywood Reporter simply said, “Gene Marinaccio is either a genius or a madman. In this day of bludgeoning realities, he strips away the outer layers and reveals the soul. He cloaks his dancers in a shroud of mysticism from which they emerge, half dazed, all impassioned and dedicated with a fanaticism to bring alive their master’s dreams – or nightmares.”
Today, forty some odd years later, choreographers aim to create a total theatrical experience for their audience. Gene did that. Dancers, costumes, sets – all contributed to performances that engaged all the senses and left the audience stunned.
After the brilliant success of Cantique, the company again retreated. There was a resurgence, in 1978, with Gene’s new work, Earthtides (Oldfield), created for Long Beach City College. Gene was again acknowledged as a major talent, a choreographer of the first order. The joy of that moment, however, was very short lived. A mere twelve hours after the performance, an arsonist set fire to Gene’s Vine Street studio, destroying irreplaceable sets, costumes, photos, business records, videos… the story of a brilliant choreographic talent.
Gene has created other work since that time. His Revolutionary Etude (Chopin) was performed at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.
Accolades that have not been destroyed include recognition by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (honored for distinguished choreography for his dramatic ballet, Cantique de la Vie in 1972) and citations in the Jerome Robbins collection in the New York Public Library.