NEW YORK — Robert Lindgren, a Canadian-born dancer who appeared with major American ballet companies before becoming the founding dean of the influential dance program at the North Carolina School of the Arts, died last Friday at his home in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 89.
His death was confirmed by his wife, dancer and teacher Sonja Tyven.
Mr. Lindgren was well known to ballet audiences in the 1940s and ’50s, although he was seen less in strictly classical roles than in contemporary ballets and as the Golden Slave in “Scheherazade.”
He danced with Ballet Theater (now American Ballet Theater) in New York in the early 1940s and with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo from 1945 to 1952. From 1957 to 1959, he was a soloist in New York City Ballet. He also danced on television, on Broadway, and on State Department tours.
Governor Terry Sanford of North Carolina established the School of the Arts (now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts) in Winston-Salem as a public arts conservatory in 1963, offering courses at high school and college levels. (It now has a graduate program.) Mr. Lindgren was its first dean of dance, from 1965 to 1987. He founded and directed its professional ballet troupe, North Carolina Dance Theater.
The school’s graduates became visible in American companies as diverse as Ballet Theater, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, New York City Ballet, and the Paul Taylor Company. In 1979, Mr. Lindgren’s reach became international when Netherlands Dance Theater, directed by Jiri Kylian, began using many North Carolina-trained dancers. The faculty included leading alumni of professional companies, among them Melissa Hayden of City Ballet.
Mr. Lindgren resigned as dean in 1987 when Lincoln Kirstein invited him to be his successor as director and president of the School of American Ballet, City Ballet’s affiliate school in New York. He left in 1991, reportedly over disagreements about widening the curriculum.
Drawing on his professional experience, Mr. Lindgren remained a believer in training dancers in several dance idioms and styles.
Born in Victoria, British Columbia, Mr. Lindgren studied ballet in Canada and in New York. During World War II, he served with the Royal Canadian Air Force. On his discharge, he joined the Ballet Russe, when George Balanchine was its main choreographer.
He and Tyven, who also danced in the Ballet Russe, were married in 1952. After they retired from City Ballet, they opened the Lindgren-Tyven School of Ballet in Phoenix and later moved to North Carolina.
One of Mr. Lindgren’s legacies at the School of the Arts is the annual production of “The Nutcracker,” which he and Tyven choreographed there more than 40 years ago.