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Born in Brigham City, Utah, Lew Christensen trained at the School of American Ballet in New York City and first performed in vaudeville with his brothers, Willam and Harold, then appeared with such companies as the American Ballet; the Ballet Caravan, which he helped to found; and the Ballet Society. He danced the title role in the American premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s Apollo Musagetes and the role of Pat Garrett in Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid.
As a choreographer he created more than 50 ballets, the most influential being those for the San Francisco Ballet, which he directed or codirected from 1952 until his death in 1984. His works include such dances as Filling Station and Con Amore. Under his direction the San Francisco Ballet gained both national and international stature.