The Kennedy Center

Lew Christensen


Born in Brigham City, Utah, Lew Christensen is considered the 20th century's first great American-born dancer and choreographer. As a youth, growing up in the small, rural town of Brigham City, Utah, he was required to attend classes in social dancing taught by his uncle at the family's school, the Box Elder Academy of Music and Dancing.

His first professional experiences as a performer came when his brother Willam organized a small dance troupe and booked performances on the vaudeville circuits of the 1920s. At that time, there were no resident ballet companies in America, and as a result they achieved widespread acclaim for their sophisticated dance routines.

In 1934, Christensen began taking classes at the new School of American Ballet, founded earlier that year by Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine. Balanchine immediately sensed Christensen's vast potential and began casting him in important roles. During his association with Kirstein and Balanchine he began to create choreographic works, beginning with the 1936 ballet Encounters, set to Mozart's "Haffner" Serenade.

Christensen was becoming aware of the need to leave the shadow of Balanchine and develop his own career as a choreographer and director. In 1948, he chose to join his brother Willam as co-director of the San Francisco Ballet. However, Balanchine persuaded him to return periodically for the next few years as ballet master of the New York City Ballet. In 1951, while continuing his association with Balanchine, Christensen succeeded his brother as Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet.

As a choreographer Christensen created more than 50 ballets, including Filling Station and Con Amore. Under his direction the San Francisco Ballet gained both national and international stature. Lew Christensen continued to direct the San Francisco Ballet until his death in 1984.
Lew Christensen