Born and raised in La Jolla, California, Gary Chryst moved to New York and attended the High School of Performing Arts. He initially studied acting at the school before switching to dance; this attraction to drama resulted in Chryst’s later reputation as a character performer.
Before graduating, Chryst performed with Norman Walker and was asked to join the Joffrey Ballet, where he danced from 1967 to 1980. His performance as the Old Showman in Petrouchka was recorded by PBS’s Great Performances: Dance in America.
He also appeared in the companies of David Parsons, Eliot Feld, José Limón, Lar Lubovitch, and Twyla Tharp.
After he left the Joffrey and tore his Achilles’ tendon, he had difficulty finding work; he was nonetheless cast in productions of A Chorus Line and West Side Story. He additionally performed in Nureyev on Broadway (1977), Dancin’ on Broadway (1978), Parade at the Metropolitan Opera House (1981), and Guys and Dolls on Broadway (1992). He served as the dance supervisor for the 1996 Broadway production of Chicago.
In the early to mid 1990s, Chryst danced with Netherlands Dance Theater III, a company founded by Jiří Kylián for dancers over the age of 42. Chryst remained with the company for six years, a period that he calls “the most artistic part of his life so far.”
His choreography credits include Chicago in Austria, West Side Story in Brazil, South Pacific in the US, and Nikinsky in Japan.
In 2006, Chryst originated the role of one of the Ugly Stepsisters in Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella at the Joffrey Ballet.
The New York Times declared that Chryst had “established a reputation as one of the finest character or dramatic dancers in American ballet.” Choreographer Martha Clarke once said of Chryst, “His whole life has been dance. He dances like he’s possessed, even in rehearsal, with such a wonderful combination of rawness and refinement.”