Through the medium of art and culture...
We believe our sense of community is enhanced by quality art and culturally rich events. It is the chosen medium for all our activities as historic education, historic preservation, and historically sound economic development can be rather uninteresting. We hope you embrace our efforts to bring more art and culture into our community as we preserve and protect our our history.
Historic Downtown Brigham City and the Nutcracker Ballet
What is the real story about the Nutcracker Ballet, The Box Elder Academy of Music and Dancing (Academy Conference Center), and Brigham City’s legendary Christensen brothers, Willam, Harold, and Lew? It’s a fascinating story in which we take great pride, but like much of history this story has developed a few embellishments.
The story of the Christensen family reaches back to the earliest days of Brigham City. The renovation of the former Box Elder Academy of Music and Dancing, now the Academy Conference Center, reconnects us to that history. And the Nutcracker Ballet, one of the world’s most beloved works of art, has a connection to both.
As an organization dedicated to historic preservation, we are delighted to promote a better understanding of all three stories, so let’s start with a small round of myth busting…
While well intended, the storyline that the Nutcracker was first performed in Brigham City, is unfortunately not true. Nor is it true that the Academy Conference Center has any direct connection to the development of the Nutcracker Ballet. And to suggest that the Christensen Brothers performed the Nutcracker Ballet in Brigham City at all, is not quite factual either. Although these stories all make wonderful conversation pieces.
But let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story…
It is undisputed that Willam, Harold, and Lew Christensen transformed dance in the American West. It is also clear that they began their influential performing careers in the Box Elder Academy of Music and Dancing, an institution owned & operated at one point by the Christensen family. It is also well established that Willam Christensen choreographed the first complete Nutcracker Ballet at the San Francisco Ballet, which was first performed on December 24, 1944, in which he danced as Cavalier. He shared the limelight of that remarkable production with his sister-in-law, Gisella Caccialanza, the wife of Lew Christensen, who danced the rôle of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Much has happened before and after that pivotal, war-weary, date. Indeed entire books have been written about the subject. But the significance of that first Nutcracker Ballet cannot be overstated. The staging was a huge success and one critic wrote: "We can't understand why a vehicle of such fantastic beauty and originality could be produced in Europe in 1892 with signal success and never be produced in its entirety in this country until 1944. Perhaps choreographers will make up for lost time from now on."
And indeed they have. The Nutcracker Ballet is now an annual production of many professional ballet companies, including the San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, both founded and/or developed by the Christensen Brothers.
So it is fitting that we bring this story back to our place and time. The Nutcracker Ballet is performed annually in Historic Downtown Brigham City by our own Classical Youth Ballet Company, said by many to be the finest youth ballet company in the region. Founder Michelle Jackman studied under Willam Christensen at his Ballet School in Murray Utah, before his passing in 1999 at the age of 99.
So indeed there is a wonderful connection with Historic Downtown Brigham City and the Nutcracker ballet and we invite you to become part of the story.