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Dancer, choreographer, award winning producer, Captain in the US Army during WW II, and patron of the arts, died May 29, 2014, at the age of 89, after a gallant battle with cancer. Born Phyllis Elizabeth Caputo in Ambridge, PA, she was the daughter of Eugene Caputo, a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Velma Lindway, a professional artist and illustrator. After graduating high school, Felisa set off to New York City in pursuit of her dream of becoming a dancer. She trained there with Vinecenzo Celli, ballet master of the Ballet Russe, before heading off to Mexico City to study classical Spanish Dance and Flamenco with Jose Fernandez. During Word War II, she joined the Army, attained the rank of Captain, and as a member of the USO, entertained the troops in the Philippines, Korea and Japan. Upon her return to New York, she joined Charles Weidman's Dance Theatre as lead dancer, gave concerts with Peter Hamilton and appeared on the early Fred Waring and Billy Rose television shows. In 1948, she became the first female to choreograph the Hasty Pudding Review at Harvard University. In 1949, she became assistant choreographer as well as lead dancer in the New York City Opera Company where she danced lead roles in many operas, including Carmen, La Traviata and Don Giovanni. From 1953-55, she was a principal dancer with the John Butler Dance Theatre where she partnered with Glen Tetley in many significant roles. She went on to choreograph for television for Sid Caesars' Show of Shows and with Bambi Lynn and Rod Alexander for Carousel. She also choreographed the dances in the Julie Andrews special from Salzberg. Felisa staged many of the Kennedy Center Honors Awards show which were produced and created by her late husband, Nick Vanoff. Ms. Vanoff produced the Broadway musical City of Angels in London for which she received the Oliver Award with Nick Vanoff, and she underwrote the Joffrey Ballet's recreation of the famous Diaghilev Ballet Sacre du Printemps in 1987. After the death of her husband, Felisa and Gordon Davidson created Salon at the Taper, a yearly benefit hosted by Michael Feinstein and honoring an outstanding lyricist each year. The proceeds from the evenings fund "Nick's Tix," low cost tickets to all Music Center performances for students, seniors and the disabled. Felisa was a great patron of the arts. She was on the board of directors of the Joffrey Ballet and was influential in bringing the company to Los Angeles. Felisa was a longtime member of the board of directors of the The Blue Ribbon of the Music Center where she chaired and/or co-chaired many events for their benefit. She was also a Board Member of The Colleagues and as a member of S.H.A.R.E. participated in their show. Felisa Vanoff is survived by her son, Nick; daughter-in-law, Kate Lusk Vanoff; granddaughters, Marina and Kathrine; her sister, Paula Caputo; loving nieces and their families. As per her wishes, her family has buried her in Sun Valley, Idaho. There will be a private memorial for her in Beverly Hills later this month.
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Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 22, 2014
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