Vivaldi Concerto Grosso

The Choreography of Lew Christensen

Lew Christensen was one of America's most important dancers and choreographers. Credited as being this century's first great American-born danseur noble, he was also the creator of over one hundred and ten ballets, several of which are recognized as seminal works in American dance history. Christensen was a principal dancer and ballet master with Ballet Caravan, The American Ballet, Ballet Society, New York City Ballet, and, most significantly, Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet from 1951 until his death in 1984. Christensen's ballets are acclaimed for their craft, musicality and wit. His choreography shrewdly yet effortlessly blends the classical legacy with an innate American liveliness. Christensen's ballets are in the repertory of major companies in the United States including San Francisco Ballet, the New York City Ballet, and the Joffrey Ballet.

This site is intended to be the primary on-line resource for information about the choreography of Lew Christensen. The choreography of Lew Christensen is the property of the Christensen Trust, Timothy Duncan trustee.

Photograph: Kathleen Mitchell and Jais Zinoun in the San Francisco Ballet performances of Christensen's Vivaldi Concerto Grosso (1994). Photo by Lloyd Englert.

Biography of Lew Christensen

  • Lew Christensen: An American Dance Legend

    The Choreography of Lew Christensen

    Information about individual ballets by Lew Christensen.

    • Con Amore (1953) A comic masterpiece, Con Amore is Christensen's most popular and widely performed ballet.

    • Filling Station (1938) One of the classics of American ballet--credited as the first ballet danced by an American company, based on an American theme, with music and designs by American artists.

    • Four Norwegian Moods (1976) A charming and lyrical duet choreographed for San Francisco Ballet dancers Susan Magno and Keith Martin. Four Norwegian Moods was performed as part of the New York City Ballet's 1999 Stravinsky Festival.

    • Il Distratto (1967) One of Christensen's most popular and enduring ballets, Il Distratto is a brilliant combination of classical dance and Christensen's famous wit.

    • Jinx (1942) Dramatically dark and haunting--superstition is the central theme in Christensen's classic one-act ballet.

    • Nutcracker (First complete production by Lew Christensen 1954, revised 1967, 1986) Lew Christensen's Nutcracker has been performed annually by San Francisco Ballet for nearly half a century and has been seen by more than half a million audience members at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House. Christensen's Nutcracker has been aired on national television and portions of the choreography have been performed world-wide as part of San Francisco Ballet's historic State Department tours. The Nutcracker, first staged in America by Willam Christensen as a modest holiday presentation, has today become an annual tradition performed by over 150 ballet companies across the country making it the most widely seen ballet in the dance repertory.

    • Vivaldi Concerto Grosso (1981) Christensen's final work, his most eloquent and lucid choreographic creation.

    • Beauty and the Beast (1958) The moral reads "Beauty is only skin deep." So, this ballet says, is beastliness. One of the most widely acclaimed works from the San Francisco Ballet repertory.

    • Don Juan (1973) Breathtaking sets and sumptuous costumes provide the background for the dashing swashbuckler and his encounters with maidens, foes and his eventual demise.

    • Shadows (1961) A ballet about isolation-- an intimate work for six women and five men created for San Francisco Ballet's 1961 summer workshop series.

    • Scarlatti Portfolio (1971) Christensen's classic blend of wit and humor with the grace and beauty of classical dance.

    • Divertissement d'Auber (1959) Showcasing the technique of classical ballet at its peak, the form and movement of Divertissement d'Auber runs the gamut of the dancer's virtuoso vocabulary.

    • Airs de Ballet (1971) A jewel of classical charm and perfection choreographed for New York City Ballet principal dancer Violette Verdy.

    • Sinfonia (1958) Sinfonia is one of Christensen's most delightful and imaginative choreographic creations, a blend of eighteenth century Italian wit and twentieth century American vitality.

      Information about the following Christensen ballets will be available soon:

    • Baiser de la Fee (1977)

    • Beauty and the Shepherd (1954)

    • Caprice (1959)

    • Charade, or The Debutante (1939)

    • Cinderella (1973)

    • Danses Concertantes (1959)

    • Fantasma (1963)

    • Le Gourmand (1951)

    • Jest of Cards (1962) Christensen's 'existential' ballet with a score by Ernst Krenek.

    • Lady of Shalott (1958)

    • Life: A Do It Yourself Disaster (1965) America's first "pop-art" ballet.

    • Lucifer (1965)

    • Original Sin (1961) Provocative, and distinctly American in its treatment, Original Sin is choreographed to a commissioned score by John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet with a libretto by San Francisco beat poet Kenneth Rexroth.

    • Variations de Ballet (1960)

    • and many more


    Some recent and upcoming performances of ballets by Lew Christensen.


  • The Christensen Family Digital Archive at the Museum of Performance & Design. The Christensen Family Digital Archive consists of images and documents chronicling the life and career of Lew Christensen and his brothers, Willam and Harold.

  • The New York Public Library holdings about Lew Christensen. The Dance Collection of The New York Public Library is the largest and most comprehensive archive in the world devoted to the documentation of dance. The Dance Collection has substantial holdings from the career of Lew Christensen including: photographs, articles, video tapes, films, costume designs, and news clippings.

  • The history of San Francisco Ballet and the directorships of Lew and Willam Christensen from the San Francisco Ballet web site.

  • Wikipedia article about Lew Christensen. Contains additional references.

  • Wikipedia article about Willam Christensen, Lew Christensen's brother and founder of San Francisco Ballet.

  • Wikipedia article about Mose Christensen, Lew Christensen's uncle and a prominent musician and dance teacher in the west.

  • Lew Christensen and San Francisco Ballet, from Museum of Performance & Design. This includes images from Lew Christensen's days as co-Artistic Director with Willam, sole Artistic Director, his years as Artistic Director and as co-Artistic Director with Michael Smuin of San Francisco Ballet.

  • Choreographic Works of Lew Christensen, from Museum of Performance & Design. Includes images from selected works choreographed by Lew Christensen featuring San Francisco Ballet Dancers.

  • Lew Christensen biography, from Museum of Performance & Design.

  • Ballet west of the Mississippi is pretty much the creation of the Christensen brothers Willam, Harold, and Lew, wrote Arlene Croce in 1980 , The history of the Christensen Brothers by Sheryl Flatow, from Dance Heritage Coalition.

  • An early history of San Francisco Ballet, from Dance News Annual (1953) by James Graham Luhan.

  • Letter from Benjamin Britten to Lew Christensen dated May 17, 1942 discussing Jinx and future plans (Lucifer).

  • San Francisco Opera Ballet, program from January 17 1940, Willam Christensen Director.

  • The Ballet Caravan, complete program from performance in Los Angeles on November 16, 1938. Program includes Yankee Clipper, Filling Station and Billy the Kid. Dancers include Eugene Loring, Lew Christensen, Erik Hawkins, Gisella Caccialanza, Todd Bolander, Ruby Asquith. Composers Paul Bowles, Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland. Lincoln Kirstein Director, Lew Christensen Ballet Master, Elliott C. Carter Jr. Musical Director.

  • American Ballet Caravan, flyer from December 1, 1939. Gisella Caccialanza (top), Lew Christensen (center).


  • Bibliography Books, articles, videos and other information about Lew Christensen and the Christensen brothers.

  • The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition by Chris Barton. Every December, The Nutcracker comes to life in theaters all across the United States. But how did this 19th-century Russian ballet become such a big part of the holidays in 21st-century America? Meet William, Harold, and Lew Christensen, three small-town Utah boys who caught the ballet bug in the early 1900s. They performed on vaudeville and took part in the New York City dance scene. Russian immigrants shared the story of The Nutcracker with them, and during World War II, they staged their own Christmastime production in San Francisco. It was America's first full-length version and the beginning of a delightful holiday tradition.

  • Striving for Beauty: A Memoir of the Christensen Brothers' San Francisco Ballet. Striving for Beauty takes place during the Christensen Brothers era of the San Francisco Ballet. The Prologue ends with Willam presenting the first full-length Nutcracker in America in 1944. Sally Bailey, one of the Company's future ballerinas, enters Harold's School here, and through her eyes we see the growth of the Company and herself, including; Willam's departure, Lew's ascendance, Balanchine's influence, and the historic State Department tours to the Middle East and Asia in the 1950s. She also gives her perspective on issues--both personal and artistic-that dancers face. A short Epilogue carries San Francisco Ballet history forward to today. Published by Xlibris

  • The Christensen Brothers: An American Dance Epic Information about the book by Debra Sowell. The Christensen Brothers: An American Dance Epic is an in-depth and scholarly chronicle of the lives of Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen and their pioneering careers in American dance.

    For further information about the choreography of Lew Christensen including performance licenses write to: The Lew Christensen Trust, 2780 Concord Way, San Bruno CA 94066.

    © 2001 The Lew Christensen Trust, Timothy Duncan, trustee