ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Ballet West, Willam Christensen and the history of ballet in America

Nov 8, 2023, 10:00 AM | Updated: 12:43 pm

Willam Christensen, the founder of Ballet West and The San Francisco Ballet, holds a Nutcracker. (B...

Willam Christensen, the founder of Ballet West and The San Francisco Ballet, holds a Nutcracker. (Ballet West)

(Ballet West)

SALT LAKE CITY — Ballet West celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. Willam Christensen, the founder of the ballet company, played a pivotal role in bringing ballet to the United States. 

According to Adam Sklute, Ballet West’s current artistic director, ballet didn’t begin its rise to popularity in the U.S. until the 1930s. 

“A full decade or more before [ballet rose to popularity,] the Christensen family was actually bringing ballet and developing ballet here in Utah,” said Sklute. 

Christensen was born and raised with two brothers in Brigham City, Utah. 

He studied with two famed choreographers; Michel Fokine, the original choreographer of The Firebird, and George Balanchine, who choreographed several significant works for the New York City Ballet. 

Vaudeville & the San Francisco Ballet

“[The brothers] then went on to travel the country with their wives in the vaudeville circuit, where they performed vaudeville shows across the country,” Sklute said. 

Christensen then joined the San Francisco Opera Ballet as a soloist in 1937, according to Britannica

According to Sklute, Christensen went on to found the first full ballet company in the United States, the San Francisco Ballet. The S.F. Ballet’s website says the company is the oldest in the United States. 

During his time in San Francisco, Christensen staged the first full-length ballet productions. According to the S. F. Ballet’s website, they were the first full-length ballet productions in the United States. They were Coppélia in 1938, Swan Lake in 1940, and the Nutcracker in 1944. 

Christensen’s production of The Nutcracker premiered in 1944. After a brief hiatus, it returned in 1949. It has been an American holiday tradition ever since, according to the San Francisco Ballet. 

The Corps de Ballet International website said Christensen “[based] his versions on historical research and the reminiscences of older dancers who had performed those works in Europe.”

Photos from the Ballet West’s history. (Ballet West)

Christensen’s return to Utah and the foundation of Ballet West

Christensen returned to Utah in the early 1950s, Sklute said.

Christensen founded the first fully accredited university ballet department.

“That is the University of Utah’s ballet department. Before that, ballet had just been part of the PE department and such like that,” Sklute said. 

A student ballet group affiliated with the University of Utah’s dance program became a professional company in 1963. At the time, it was known as the Utah Civic Ballet. The name was changed to Ballet West “so that we could represent the entire Intermountain Region,” said Sklute. 

“Utah and Ballet West have a great history as part of the fabric of American Ballet,” said Sklute. 

Related: 

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Arts + Entertainment

Music and the Spoken word getting new voice...

Adam Small

Iconic voice of ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ to present his final program

Lloyd Newell who has presented "Music and the Spoken Word" for 35 years will be stepping down from his position.

1 day ago

tuesday movie poster next to ksl movie show host steve salles...

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Tuesday’ is a movie you need to experience for yourself

In this KSL Movie Show review, we explore "Tuesday," which personifies death as a talking macaw.

1 day ago

ksl movie show host steve salles stands next to inside out 2 movie poster...

Steve Salles

KSL Movie Show review: ‘Inside Out 2’ is almost as good as the original

Is the long-anticipated movie "Inside Out 2" as good as the original? KSL Movie Show host Steve Salles says no, but it’s pretty darn close!

1 day ago

Arraignment for driver, Kent Cody Barlow today...

Heather Peterson, Diana Jones

Arraignment for driver accused of killing two boys in Eagle Mountain on Wednesday

The accused, Kent Cody Barlow, was reportedly driving over 100 mph when he crashed into Cedar Valley Stables.

3 days ago

LA Clippers executive board member Jerry West attends a game between the Orlando Magic and the Hous...

Devin Oldroyd

Inspiration behind NBA logo, Jerry West dies at 86

The inspiration for the NBA's logo and famed former basketball player Jerry West has died. West was 86-years-old. 

3 days ago

A rendering of a proposed "sports, entertainment, culture and convention center" surrounding Delta ...

Carter Williams, ksl.com

Delta Center renovations could begin next year. Here’s what some of Smith’s plans look like

Construction to remodel the Delta Center could begin as early as April 2025, Smith Entertainment Group officials said Tuesday.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...

Comcast

Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Ballet West, Willam Christensen and the history of ballet in America