Maria Giacobbe Alessandra, Founder of Delta Festival Ballet, Dies at 92
Maria Giacobbe Alessandra passed away at her home in Metairie, Louisiana, on May 29, 2021, with her daughter Nan by her bedside. As a dance teacher for 75 years, she taught with a rare combination of love, discipline, dedication and passion overlaid by a deep maternal care for each of her students.
Maria Giacobbe made her entrance on the world stage on Valentine’s Day as the first child of newlyweds Lawrence and Leona Giacobbe. Although women had earned the right to vote only nine years before her birth, she became a trailblazer whose early childhood was marked by vigorous intellectual and artistic activities.
Her dance training began at an early age with Gerry Fenasci in the 1930s and continued with Lelia Haller in classical ballet. She performed with the USO during World War II, and the New Orleans Opera Association, where she danced with Royes Fernandez, who later became a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre. Giacobbe’s dedication to her craft continued through opera performances in both high school (where she was salutatorian of Holy Name of Jesus School) and college at Loyola University in New Orleans, where she graduated cum laude. While choreographing for Loyola University, she met her future husband, Anthony Alessandra, who became the father of their two daughters.
In 1943, Maria and her sister Georgie opened Giacobbe Academy of Dance, which is now celebrating its 79th season. After graduating from Loyola, Maria taught in K–12 schools in the Greater New Orleans area for 17 years. She formed dance teams at some of the high schools, with the Grace King dance team being asked to perform as the lead-off position for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In 1969, Maria and her brother Joseph co-founded the Delta Festival Ballet, attracting professional dancers and instructors from all over the world to teach and perform with the company and at the studio. Edward Villella, Patricia McBride, Cynthia Gregory, Royes Fernandez, Alexander Godunov, Gelsey Kirkland, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky were just some of the international guest stars that inspired students and audiences.
Maria and Joseph later founded the New Orleans Youth Ballet, which laid the foundation for many students to pursue successful professional careers in dance as well as the discipline and dedication required to excel in any professional ambition. Giacobbe’s continuing love of teaching and her students motivated her to further her study of ballet pedagogy with The Royal Academy of Dance, Cecchetti and Vaganova methods.
In 1984, Giacobbe was honored by St. Mary’s Dominican College and the Women’s Office of the City of New Orleans as one of the “area’s outstanding women artists.” She also received the Mayor’s Arts Award in 1988. In 1993, she was honored by Dance Magazine for her outstanding contributions in dance, and she received a Proclamation from the Jefferson Parish Council for a half century of dedicated teaching. She reigned as Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance, for the Krewe of Muses, and in 2000, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Classical Awards Committee of the Big Easy Organization.
Giacobbe’s life was marked by artistic achievement, dedication and inspiration for generations of her students. She was always guided by her deep faith, her hope to persevere no matter what obstacles she faced, and a boundless, unselfish love for her family, friends, students and community.