Felisa Vanoff, dancer, choreographer, producer and patron of the arts, died May 29 after a battle with cancer. She was 89.
Upon returning to New York after studying dance in Mexico City, 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 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 Caesar’s “Show of Shows” and with Bambi Lynn and Rod Alexander for “Carousel.”
She also choreographed the dances in the Julie Andrews special from Salzberg.
Vanoff staged many of the Kennedy Center Honors Awards shows, which were produced and created by her late husband, Nick Vanoff.
Felisa 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 re-creation of the famous Diaghilev Ballet “Sacre du Printemps” in 1987.
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.
After the death of her husband, Felisa and Gordon Davidson created Salon at the Taper, an annual benefit in Los Angeles 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.
As a patron of the arts, Vanoff was on the board of directors of the Joffrey Ballet and was influential in bringing the company to Los Angeles. She was a longtime member of the board of directors of the Blue
Ribbon of the Music Center, chairing or co-chairing many events for the organization’s benefit . She was also a board member of the Colleagues and as a member of S.H.A.R.E. participated in its show.
Vanoff is survived by her son, Nick; two granddaughters Marina and Kathrine; and her sister.
She was buried in Sun Valley, Idaho. There will be a private memorial for her in Beverly Hills later this month.