Flossmoor resident Alyssia Duda turned 11 on Nov. 10 and is a fifth grader at Western Avenue School. While there is nothing unusual about that news, there is something extraordinary about Alyssia. She is appearing for the second time in the Joffrey Ballet’s highly acclaimed production of “The Nutcracker,” now playing at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
Flossmoor resident Alyssia Duda turned 11 on Nov. 10 and is a fifth grader at Western Avenue School. While there is nothing unusual about that news, there is something extraordinary about Alyssia.
She is appearing for the second time in the Joffrey Ballet’s highly acclaimed production of “The Nutcracker,” now playing at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. This time around she has a dual role, as a nutcracker and a soldier. Two years ago she portrayed a Pierrot doll — a French clown — in the ballet.
This fall, she spent three days a week practicing at the Joffrey Center. Weekday practices are three hours and weekend sessions are four hours. A week before the Dec. 1 opening night, she went to practice every day.
During the duration of the ballet, which runs through Dec. 30, she will perform in a total of 16 shows, alternating with afternoon and evening presentations.
“She loves the (practice) Center,” said her mother, Lenore. “She would live there if she could.”
She added, with a smile, “I spend a lot of time in the car, getting her back and forth.”
In addition to her love of ballet, Alyssia also pursues acting, singing and modeling. Under contract with the Stewart Talent Agency, she has appeared in the popular TV show “Empire” three times, working alongside the stars of the show, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson.
She has appeared also in “Chicago P.D.,” “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago Med.” She is currently booked for an upcoming “Chicago Fire” episode.
When you talk to Alyssia, it is quickly apparent that it is her love of ballet that has motivated her since the age of 3.
She began with ballet lessons at the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District, then moved on to the Ballet 5-8 school in Frankfort and now studies at the Joffrey Ballet Center. Her mentor there is Fabrice Calmels, a lead dancer in Joffrey’s company.
Calmels is from Paris, where he studied at the Paris Opera Ballet School.
When asked if she would like to study in Paris, Alyssia says, “Oh yes! I am hoping to be able to go. I love the French culture and the language,” she says with a huge smile and a sparkle in her eyes.
Her mother explained that the Paris ballet school conducts summer intensive classes for six to eight weeks.
“My husband, Steven, and I know how much she wants to go, but we will have to see (since) it is very costly.”
Lenore attributes Alyssia’s success to the Lord. “We give thanks to the Lord for all His blessings in making this happen.”
Alyssia is aware of the cost of ballet studies and is especially sensitive to the challenges it presents for girls of color. She is biracial and knows that for inner city girls a career in ballet could be out of the question. As a result she participates in the Community Engagement program at the Center which offers classes of ballet, jazz and hip-hop to children in underserved communities.
“I want to be an example for them through my gifts, to inspire them to follow their dreams,” she said.
Consequently, she has gone even further by establishing “Alyssia’s Dream,” a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to provide scholarships to deserving girls.
“I want all ballerinas to have everything they need to become successful dancers,” she said.
Incredibly, with all this going on, Alyssia is an A+ student and is working to learn French and Mandarin languages, on her own, by listening to tapes.
“One of my friends at the Joffrey Center knows Mandarin and is helping me,” she said.
Asked how she manages to keep up with all this activity, she replied simply, “I do my homework in the car.”