Texas Western College Civic Ballet dancers in Johann Strauss’s “Graduation Ball,” about 1963.
Debuting on January 17, 1960 at Magoffin Auditorium, the Texas Western Civic Ballet was a “joint college-community venture” between Texas Western College and the city of El Paso. The Civic Ballet was directed by Ingeborg Heuser, who also danced in productions, produced choreography for ballets, and created costumes. Musical directors included famed local conductor Abraham Chavez, Jr. and Texas Western Department of Music chair Dr. E.A. Thormodsgaard. Heuser, a graduate of the Opera Ballet School in Berlin, came to El Paso in 1953 after attending the University of Arizona. In El Paso Heuser opened her own ballet school and founded the Ballet Center Guild of El Paso. The Civic Ballet began when Heuser was chosen to create a ballet program for Texas Western College. She not only taught ballet at Texas Western College, but also served as the Civic Ballet’s artistic director for 47 years until her retirement in 2006.
Over the years the Texas Western Civic Ballet, later renamed the University Civic Ballet, Ballet El Paso, and, more recently, the UTEP Ballet, has performed at Liberty Hall, Magoffin Auditorium, and the Plaza Theatre. Comprised of professional dancers, guest artists, university students, and local high school students, the Civic Ballet staged numerous ballets including “Gaite Parisienne,” “Red Shoes,” “Les Sylphides,” “Merry Widow,” “Graduation Ball,” “Grazioso,” “Coppelia,” and “The Nutcracker,” which became a staple of the El Paso holiday season for fifty years. The Civic Ballet was often accompanied by the Texas Western College Symphony Orchestra, the El Paso Symphony, and the College Community Opera.
The Civic Ballet was important to the university and the community for many reasons. These included providing advanced training for students through the ballet program at Texas Western and for serving as a vehicle for El Paso’s ballet dancers to perform professionally on a local stage. Additionally, according to its 1963 – 1964 promotional literature, “the Texas Western Civic Ballet has become part-parcel of the community expansion and become an important stimulus toward attracting new industries who are linking industrial growth with cultural growth.” The Civic Ballet not only helped make higher professional standards of ballet performance in El Paso a reality, but also as a significant and well-known regional ballet company, played “a major role in the cultural life of the Southwest.” Under Heuser’s direction, the Civic Ballet received “nation-wide editorial recognition” and attracted notable soloists and guest artists.
Currently, the UTEP Ballet performs at Magoffin Auditorium and is part of the UTEP Department of Theatre and Dance. For more information about the history of dance, music, and theater at UTEP, please visit the UTEP Library’s Special Collections Department. Guides to the UTEP Collection, MS 001, can be viewed here: http://libraryweb.utep.edu/special/finding_aids/MS001_MASTERGuide.pdf
[Sources: Civic Ballet booklets and programs, Box 1, Folder 14, Music Department records, MS 001 UTEP Collection; UTEP web site; Horizons Online News, October 2006; “Ballet Minero” in UTEP Magazine, Summer 2009]
Abbie Weiser is the processing archivist at the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. She earned a BA in history from George Washington University, a MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin, and a MA in history from UTEP. She is certified by the Academy of Certified Archivists.