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Ballet crusader Donna Vittorio

Donna Vittorio

Donna Vittorio

When a 10-year-old girl gets smitten with dance and harbors dreams of becoming a dancer, don’t laugh–it can happen. In fact, that describes how Donna Vittorio, Artistic Director of Chicago’s Ballet Légere, launched a path that landed her in the terpsichorean trade.

“Growing up Italian in my family greatly influenced my interest in the arts,” says Vittorio, whose parents were both born in Italy. “My father played and sang Italian songs. My sister Camille was a ballroom dancer, my other sister Lucille was a singer, and my brother Lou is a musician.”

As for Donna, “For as long as I can remember a thought, I loved dance. I had to watch it as a child whenever possible. My older sister brought me to my first ballet lesson at the age of 10. There was never any doubt that this was the only profession for me.”

Vittorio landed her first professional dance job at age 18; after starting a family, she went into teaching, choreographing and some acting. But she remains very connected to the art form she loves so much, as Vittorio’s Ballet Légere will present its 30th anniversary edition of “The Nutcracker,” in its entirety, at the Dominican University Performing Arts Center in River Forest.

It’s the longest running “Nutcracker” in the area and since its inception, Ballet Légere has performed its annual production for more than 100,000 school children. Add the 60,000-plus patrons who’ve attended weekend performances over 30 years, and you’re talking about a track record few ballet companies can match.

But the excitement of staging “The Nutcracker” still equals a shining Christmas present under the tree for Vittorio.

“The yearly Nutcracker is very special to me,” she says, adding: “I love educating the school children in this art of ballet; we have field trip performances designed especially for them. Many of them write us letters of appreciation for allowing them to see a ballet. Many thought they’d never like it, but to their surprise they did. I never tire of Tchaikovsky’s music, especially ‘The Nutcracker’–and every year I feel blessed to be able to choreograph to such a masterpiece.”

vittorio2Speaking of kids, Vittorio also loves mentoring the youthful dancers she takes under her wing. Vittorio now has three who trained with her, and danced in the show for many years, now producing and choreographing this year’s production.

It all adds up to untold hours of rehearsal and dedication. Ballet Légere has a cast of 120 dancers annually, along with an alumni base of more than 3,500 dancers, actors and performers of all ages.

Still Vittorio never tires of the work. “Every year, I see a group of young talent work very hard on a common goal,” she says. “It’s so rewarding to see this polished production through every stage of rehearsal. Many of the kids stay in contact with each other and dream of what their next role might be.”

Vittorio understands. After all, she knows all about how children’s dreams dance in their heads.

Ballet Légere’s production of “The Nutcracker” runs Dec. 11-15 at the Dominican University Performing Arts Center, Lund Auditorium: 7900 W. Division St. in River Forest. Tickets are $20-$25, with special school and organization rates available. For more information, visit balletlegere.org, call 773-237-1874 or email balletlegere@yahoo.com.

About Lou Carlozo

A former longtime staff writer, editor and columnist for the Chicago Tribune, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor to Reuters and the proud writer of Fra Noi’s Lou&A column, which spotlights important Italian Americans. He is currently studying for his master’s degree at National-Louis University, where he teaches journalism and writing on the graduate school level. He also writes for the Tribune Content Agency and a variety of other freelance outlets including DealNews, Money Under 30 and Yesware. He lives in the North Center neighborhood of Chicago with his wife of more than 17 years, Amy (a hospice chaplain), and two children.