Life Story for
Paula Rosemary Caputo, died peacefully in Ketchum, in the home of her eldest daughter Alex Sundali, on August 8th, 2015. She was 85 years old.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 5, 1930, to Eugene and Velma Caputo, Paula grew up in Ambridge, PA along with her sister Felisa. Eugene was a first generation immigrant from Italy who worked his way through the University of Pittsburgh law school as a bricklayer. He went on to a long, stellar career as an attorney and Pennsylvania state legislator. Velma was an artist and fashion illustrator for magazines and department stores in and around Pittsburgh. Paula inherited both her mother’s artistic side and her father’s dedication to justice and activism.
As a young child, Paula showed exceptional talent and ability in ballet, and at the age of nine was asked to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when they passed through Pittsburg. Her mother refused to let her leave home to tour the world at such a young age, a point that Paula didn’t understand until she had children of her own.
In 1944, she finished high school early and became a soloist dancing at the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera to save up money to go to New York City to pursue her dance career.
She made it to New York in 1948 and worked, dancing any part that came her way, taking class, and, as she said in a 1988 interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, "...working on funny little television shows, in department stores and funny offices where I told them I could type."
Four years later, she went to an open audition held by the New York City Ballet– a long shot for the young dancer, since routinely the ballet only accepted new dancers enrolled in its school.
"It was hard," she said. "They sit out there in the dark of the theatre and say, ‘Do six pirouettes.’ It’s hard because you’re in a mob. They do 10 at a time and eliminate. All you want to know is where your feet are. You do what you are trained to do. Finally, it was only me and one other dancer on stage."
At NYCB she was immediately put to work learning 130 ballets in her first few months with NYC, with a solo role created for her by the choreographer in residence, Jerome Robbins. As a result of overwork, she injured her foot, and after an unsuccessful operation, had to retire at the young age of 23.
Though devastated by this turn of events, Paula went on to dance in the NYC Opera Ballet and the Charles Weidman Dance Theater- a troupe at the forefront of modern dance in the US. She also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and Fred Waring show.
In 1957, Paula married Gust Babalis and moved to Sneden’s Landing, NY where they raised their three daughters together. Paula taught ballet at the local church parish and later choreographed musicals at high schools and community centers in the area.
She became the Project and Associate Director of The National Association for Regional Ballet, in NYC from 1977-79 and also wrote a monthly column in Dance Magazine.
From 1979 to 1983 she was an assistant producer, working with her brother in law, television producer Nick Vanoff, on a number of television specials, including Baryshnikov on Broadway, The Big Show, and various Bob Hope specials.
After her divorce in 1983, Paula moved to Ketchum, Idaho, which became her home for the next 32 years. She quickly became involved teaching at the Ballet School and became the Artistic Director of the Ballet Foundation in 1988.
Also In 1988, at the suggestion of former fellow NYCB alum and star, Jacques d’Amboise, Paula created Summerdance, with a generous grant from Nick and Felisa Vanoff. A three-week workshop culminating in a weekend of performances by students, and guest artists from NYCB, the Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, and the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Summer Dance received critical acclaim, and was an immediate success.
Summerdance provided much-needed opportunities for local and regional dance students to learn from seasoned professionals. The faculty included Jacques d’Amboise, Edward Villella, Christopher d’Amboise, Ann Reinking, and Mimi Paul. In 1992 Summerdance was featured on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt.
Paula was a woman of grace and generosity, intelligent with an irreverent and ironic sense of humor. She was a wonderful and unique presence in the valley, and will be deeply missed and always remembered by those who loved her.
She is survived by her 3 daughters, Alex Sundali, Mia Hipp, and Lara McLean, her three grandchildren, Anja, Taylor and Daniel Sundali, her nephew Nick Vanoff Jr, his wife Kate, and grandnieces Marina and Katherine.
Paula’s family would like to thank her caregivers Megan McMahon, Wendy Crane, Chantal Westerman, Renee Osanga and Diane Jarmusz as well as Hospice of the Wood River Valley, especially Kathy, Mona, Mary and Carolyn for the care, compassion, and support they gave to our mother. Her last years were happy and comfortable because of you.
A service and burial were held at the Ketchum Cemetery on August 14, 2015.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Hospice of the Wood River Valley, PO Box 4320, Ketchum, ID, 83340 or the Wood River Animal Shelter, PO Box 1496, Hailey, ID 83333.