Memorial scholarship to honor ballet choreographer Kenneth von Heidecke

  • Kenneth von Heidecke

    Kenneth von Heidecke

Updated 1/12/2022 5:00 PM

Kenneth von Heidecke, founder and chief choreographer of Chicago Festival Ballet and School, passed away suddenly on Dec. 11, 2021.

Born on Dec. 30, 1952, he graduated from Elmhurst College. He started his ballet career in 1975, later becoming choreographer for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Von Heidecke worked his way through the ranks of many prominent companies. Most significantly, he was hand-chosen by legendary Prima Ballerina Assoluta Maria Tallchief to appear in the 1975 world premiere of George Balanchine's "Orfeo ed Euridice," a groundbreaking moment in his career.


Over the years, Tallchief continued to coach von Heidecke in the Balanchine repertoire and referred to him as her protégé.

In 1989, he opened the doors to his school of ballet, and in 1990, he founded his company, Chicago Festival Ballet, which performs a repertoire of classical, romantic and neoclassical works in venues around the United States.

The company also began producing an annual touring "Nutcracker," which is now a staple in the Chicago area and a much-requested production in cities across the country. In 1996, von Heidecke had the opportunity to serve as Ballet Master to the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Team.

Former students of Kenneth von Heidecke include American figure skater Evan Lycecek (2010 Figure Skating Champion Gold Medalist and 2009 World Figure Skating Champion); Joanna Wozniak (principal dancer with Joffrey and featured in the film "Save the Last Dance"); Christina Salerno (former Royal Ballet dancer, San Francisco Ballet, Boston Ballet, Zurich Ballet); and Victoria Born (dancer for American Ballet Theatre, principal role in the film "Center Stage," ballerina in the Broadway production of "Phantom of the Opera").

Von Heidecke's works have been on WTTW's Chicago Tonight news program, WTTW's "Arts Across Illinois" entertainment special, PBS' "Making of an Opera" and a PBS documentary on Maria Tallchief's life. In 2008, he was inducted into the Fox Valley Hall of Fame. He has appeared on ABC, WGN, and NBC, and in 2018, filmmaker and composer Stuart Meyer completed a documentary on von Heidecke's life.

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Von Heidecke was a brilliant choreographer, and an inspiration to the dance community. He was a renowned choreographer for opera and ballet companies around the world, having choreographed over 60 operas and 80 ballets. His vision and legacy will live on in the many dancers he taught and inspired through the years, in the many students who continue to study and be inspired at VH Dance Center, and through his beautiful choreography which will continue to be performed through Chicago Festival Ballet.

To support the education and development of future dancers, and continue his legacy, tax deductible contributions are appreciated, and may be made to the Kenneth von Heidecke Memorial Scholarship program, through the nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization VH Ballet at, or by sending a check, payable to "VH Ballet" to VH Dance Center, 4222 Meridian Parkway, Suite 100, Aurora, IL 60504.

Please include "Kenneth von Heidecke Memorial Scholarship" in the check memo line.

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