Maracci, Carmelita, 1911-1987. Papers, 1924-1988.
Carmelita Maracci, a dancer, choreographer and teacher, was born in Goldfield, Nevada, in 1911, the daughter of a French-German mother and a Spanish-Italian father. Her paternal grandmother came from Montevideo, Uruguay; Maracci was told by her parents that she was born in Uruguay, thus explaining the early publicity about the "Uruguayan dancer." She was from a musical family; her mother was a concert-level pianist, her father wanted to be an opera singer and her great-grandfather was Antonio Patti, an uncle of Adelina Patti. She was christened Carmelita Patti Maracci.
By the age of two, Maracci had moved with her parents to San Francisco, California. She took her first dance lesson there from Anita Peters Wright. She grew up in Fresno, where she attended private schools, and then went to Los Angeles where she studied dance at the Ernest Belcher school. Her parents were supportive of her desire to dance, so she was sent to New York where she began studying with Mikhail Mordkin. Her principal ballet teachers were Luigi Albertieri and Enrico Zanfretta, and she studied Spanish dance with Hyppolito Mora. She performed with Alexis Kosloff's touring group as a soloist, beginning in December 1928. She then began to experiment with her own choreography, blending her strong classical ballet technique with Spanish dance into a unique personal style.
Maracci made her debut in a program of her own works in Los Angeles in 1930, and Los Angeles was her home until the end of her life. She made her New York debut in 1937. She performed infrequently in solo recitals or with a small group in a repertoire of her own dances. She toured under the management of Sol Hurok in 1945-46, but the relationship was broken in 1946, apparently brought to an end because Maracci refused to continue a performance in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a traumatic experience for Maracci, one she referred to again and again in her writings, particularly after Agnes de Mille alluded to the incident in her book, To a Young Dancer.
In 1951, Maracci choreographed Circo de Espana for Ballet Theatre, and she danced the lead on opening night. The ballet met with a mixed reception but remained in the repertoire for a time. She was asked by Charlie Chaplin to do choregraphy for his film Limelight, but she was not pleased with the results and asked that her name be removed from the credits.
Many who saw Maracci perform never forgot the experience. She was a perfectionist who, according to her husband, had a deep fear of performing and who made demands and put up obstacles which limited her opportunities to perform. She slowly turned more and more to teaching ballet classes, and she is known today largely through her reputation as a teacher. Some of the wellknown people who studied with her include William Carter, Geraldine Chaplin, Cynthia Gregory, Allegra Kent, Bella Lewitsky, Julie Newmar, Jerome Robbins, Janice Rule, Donald Saddler and Christine Sarry. Lester Horton recommended that his modern students take her ballet classes.
Maracci continued to teach, even as she became more and more plagued by physical problems and illness. When it became impossible for her to go to the studio, she made audiotapes for her students, talking about such subjects as ballet competitions, her own style ("acid, angry"), her career and her thoughts on dance in 1987.
Carmelita Maracci died in Los Angeles on July 26, 1987 and is survived by her husband of many years, Lee Freeson.
Maracci was known professionally in the late 1920's and early 1930's as Carma Lita or Carma Lita Maracci, then as Carmalita Maracci, and after c. 1944 as Carmelita Maracci. She was known by some family and friends as "Carmi(e)."