Reaching out — Ballet West's Peter Christie helps fifth-graders learn to love dance

Published: Sunday, July 15 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

For more than 25 years, Peter Christie has been a member of the Ballet West family. He started as a corps dancer and moved up to soloist. Now he's in charge of the dance company's educational and outreach programs, and he teaches company classes.

Audiences have enjoyed Christie's interpretations of such roles as Alfredo in Ronald Hynd's "Rosalinda," Tybalt in Michael Smuin's "Romeo & Juliet," and Dr. Drosselmeyer in the Ballet West perennial "The Nutcracker," to name a few.

Local schools know him from his works with the ICANDO program, which recruits fifth-graders from Utah's schools and helps them create and set dance productions.

"This is my dream job," Christie said during an interview in the Capitol Theatre's Ballet West offices. "I know there are a lot of people in the world who can't say that. I mean, I danced onstage with a great company with great artists, and now, after retiring from dancing, I still can work with dance and still touch lives."

Christie's road to Ballet West was filled with happenstance and some discouraging moments. "I was born in Brooklyn but raised in upstate New York. My family lived on a big farm and struggled to make ends meet. I have an older brother and five sisters. So it was a challenge because we didn't have a lot of money."

Still, Christie's parents were nurturing when it came to the arts. "My older sister wanted to take ballet, and I went with her and my mom to check out the studio. I was 9 at the time and my sister was 8. Anyway, I went along for the ride and met the teacher, Marianne Grey.

"She made a deal with my mother. She said if I would take lessons, my sister and I could take them for free. The reason was because there were no boys in the program. So for the longest time I was the only boy in all the productions."

Through Grey, Christie was introduced to the Syracuse Ballet School, then directed by Anthony and Sirpa Salatino. "The ballet school was an hour away by bus from where I lived. I was in junior high school at the time. So, I would finish school and hop on the bus. After dance class I would take the bus back. I did that every day."

Throughout his dance education, Christie said — emphasizing that it was no one's fault but his own — he developed some bad habits. "When I was 17, I went into an audition for the School of American Ballet. After I danced, I was told to quit."

However, Christie was still determined to dance. So, while the Syracuse Ballet School went through some changes, he started taking classes at the School of Hartford Ballet. It was there, just before high school, that he decided he wanted to come to Salt Lake City to dance. "I sent off my ACT and SAT scores all over the place and got accepted to the University of Utah.

"I had made dorm arrangements and got my schedule worked out, but the Hartford made me an offer. They made me a company dancer. So, I stayed."

As fate would have it, Christie did get to Utah two years later. "A bunch of us from Hartford would go to auditions held in New York. The auditions were free and we were able to take classes from world-renowned dancers, choreographers and teachers. Usually we would get through a couple of rounds and then they'd tell us we weren't good enough and we'd all go get ice cream. That was our plan."

But a funny thing happened, said Christie. "I made it through a few rounds and wound up the only one in the Hartford group that wasn't let go. I kept looking at the window and saw all my friends looking in impatiently."

It just so happened that the audition Christie was involved in at the time was overseen by Ballet West's then-artistic director Bruce Marks. "He looked at me and said, 'I want you to come to Salt Lake City.' So, as fate would have it, I did get here one way or another."

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