Sonja Tyven Lindgren, 90, of Winston-Salem, passed away Wednesday, October 31, 2018. She was born May 29, 1928 in New York City, NY, to the late Peter and Aura Pottala Tyven.
Sonja Tyven began her early dance training at the Swoboda School with Vecheslav Swoboda and Maria Yurieva. After graduating from George Washington High School in 1945, she passed auditions for three broadway shows and chose Lerner and Lowes’ The Day Before Spring to start her career. In 1946 she joined Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and danced under the name Sonja Taanila. It was in Ballet Russe that she met her husband, Robert Lindgren, with whom she worked and collaborated throughout her entire career. After they were married in 1952, they began a period of working on Broadway and television, where she danced under the name Sonja Tyven. She appeared in the broadway shows Me and Juliet, On Your Toes, and an international tour of Oklahoma, sponsored by the State Department. Television credits include Max Liebman Spectaculars and Omnibus, hosted by Alistair Cooke. Her professional dance training continued with Igor Schwezoff in New York City, Olga Preobrajenska in Paris, and at the School of American Ballet.
In 1956, Sonja and her husband joined Prima Ballerina Alexandra Danilova’s Great Moments in Ballet tour, traveling the world performing concert style programs. Upon returning to New York, Sonja and Robert joined the New York City Ballet at the invitation of George Balanchine, where they danced until 1959. During her dancing career, Sonja worked with all the leading choreographers of the day including George Balanchine, Leonid Massine, Agnes DeMille, Jerome Robbins, Ruth Page, and Anthony Tudor.
After leaving New York City Ballet, Sonja and Robert moved to Phoenix, Arizona where they opened the Lindgren-Tyven School of Ballet. It was in Phoenix that their daughters Ann and Elizabeth (Nanu and Lisu) were born. After only a few years, word of the success of their school reached the ears of the search committee for the soon-to-be-opened North Carolina School of the Arts. In 1965 Robert and Sonja sold their beloved dance school and moved to Winston-Salem to be on the founding faculty of this astonishing institution. For the next twenty-two years, Sonja was a major ballet teacher at the school, training the next generation of dancers going out to perform in leading dance companies around the world. She set the ballets Les Sylphides and Raymonda Variations at NCSA, and choreographed, with Robert Lindgren and Duncan Noble, The Nutcracker which was performed by UNCSA from 1966-2008. She and her husband took groups of students to Italy for probably fifteen summers, inspiring young dancers to travel abroad seeking artistic opportunities, just as they themselves had. During this time she also worked with the Academy of Dance Arts in Winston-Salem, the School of the Richmond Ballet, the North Carolina Dance Theatre, and founded the Pre Professional Program, now known as the Preparatory Program, at UNCSA. From 1987 - 1991, when Robert was with the School of American Ballet, Sonja taught ballet at the YMHA on 92nd Street in New York City, and enjoyed the friendship of her Tai Chi group and the Dog Club of Lincoln Towers, and discovered a love for sculpting with clay.
In 1992, Sonja and Robert moved back to Winston-Salem, officially retired, but still involving themselves in the world of dance whenever possible. Sonja always enjoyed “laughing and scratching” with friends, cooking for family, reading the newspaper cover to cover, and spoiling her dogs.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Peter and Aura Tyven, her sister Gertrude Slavin, and her husband, Robert Alexander Lindgren.
She is survived by daughters Ann LaRosee (Jim) and Lisu Mullen (Bubba), grandchildren Eric and Christopher LaRosee, Morgan and Meredith Mullen, nieces and nephews, her best friend Helena Harrice, and countless dancers, who are her unofficial daughters and sons.
There will be a service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, NC at 11:00 am on Thursday, November 8, 2018. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to the Robert and Sonja Lindgren Scholarship Fund at UNC School of the Arts. Online condolences may be made at www.Hayworth-Miller.com.