One of the premier ballet companies in the United States, Pennsylvania Ballet has been at the forefront of American dance since 1963. A protégé of legendary choreographer George Balanchine, founder Barbara Weisberger dreamed of a ballet company in Philadelphia. “Well, Barbara, my smart ballerina,” Mr. Balanchine said, “you must do it.” A leading Philadelphia cultural institution, Pennsylvania Ballet has earned a national reputation for its impassioned artistry and technical virtuosity, and has received widespread critical acclaim for extraordinary performances of a diverse classical and contemporary repertoire. Under current Artistic Director Roy Kaiser, Pennsylvania Ballet has expanded its Balanchine-based repertoire to include bold, innovative new works that embody creative excellence and engage audiences in an ongoing commitment to the vitality of this unique art form. Now celebrating 50 years, the energy and exuberance of its versatile dancers are Pennsylvania Ballet’s enduring signature.
Click here for more information about our 50th Anniversary Season programming!
About our Founder, Barbara Weisberger
Barbara Weisberger is the visionary leader, inspiring teacher, and founding artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet, which she led from 1962-1982. Her remarkable career in dance has been inextricably linked with the history of contemporary ballet in America.
In 1929, at the age of three, she began taking dancing classes in Providence, RI, where her family had moved for a short time. By the time she was five and back in her birthplace of Brooklyn, NY, Barbara started ballet training with Marion Harwick, a remarkably enterprising neighborhood teacher, who recognized her pupil’s prodigious gift for dance. Ms. Harwick brought Barbara to the attention of George Balanchine, the 30-year-old Russian-born choreographer and ballet master who had just arrived in the United States several months earlier.
In April 1934, three months after the opening of the George Balanchine/Lincoln Kirstein School of American Ballet, and following an audition with the two founders, eight-year-old Barbara was invited to join the class of dancers who Balanchine was honing into his first American Company, the American Ballet. She recalls being the only child in that class and perhaps the only child at the School of American Ballet until the next Fall, when children’s classes began. Barbara remained in the Company class until transferring to the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School, her first teachers’ alma mater, to study with Margaret Curtis. There again she connected with Balanchine, who had become the Metropolitan Opera’s choreographer. Whenever a child dancer was needed, Barbara was cast. During this period she also studied with Salvatore, the protégé of Albertieri, who in turn was the protégé of Cecchetti.
Barbara’s family moved again in 1940, this time to Wilmington, DE, and for her two remaining high school years, heeding Balanchine’s advice, she commuted daily to Philadelphia, PA to study with the Littlefield sisters, Catherine and Dorothie. By that time, the Littlefields had already begun to exert enormous positive influences on the development of ballet in America, not only on Balanchine, (whose first American Ballet was half-filled with Littlefield dancers), but on the generations that followed.
Barbara’s relationship with Balanchine virtually ended when she left New York, but their early, tangible links would figure prominently in the forming of Pennsylvania Ballet. The World War II years, college, and an early first marriage interrupted the flow of her professional career as a dancer, but her eventual return to dance was inevitable. She rejoined her family, now in Wilkes-Barre, PA, and with the establishment of the Wilkes-Barre Ballet Theatre, a ballet school and regional company, Barbara began her important role in writing a crucial chapter of American ballet history. Also during this period, 14 years after she last saw Balanchine, a chance meeting in a New York elevator rekindled their association. By the early 1960s, he had sufficient confidence in Barbara to lend his support and encourage the financial involvement of the Ford Foundation soon after she founded Pennsylvania Ballet.
Barbara Weisberger’s leadership and impact on the field continued when in 1962, with the advice and encouragement of her friend and mentor, Balanchine, she founded the School of Pennsylvania Ballet in Philadelphia, the initial step in the formation of the Pennsylvania Ballet Company. Within two years, Balanchine still at her side, and with a Ford Foundation grant, the Company gave its first Philadelphia performances.
In its first decade, the Company led the vanguard during the dynamic proliferation and decentralization of professional ballet companies across the United States. It also forged the unique identity for which it is known today: a diverse classical repertoire with a Balanchine backbone. The Company performed at City Center in New York; on PBS’ acclaimed “Dance in America” series; and in a stint as the official company of the Brooklyn Academy of Music during the 1970s.
In 1982, because of deep differences with the Board of Trustees and the directions they were taking, Barbara resigned from the Company she had led for 20 years. Two years later, she created the Carlisle Project, a center for the professional development of burgeoning choreographers and dancers, which lasted until 1996 and became a beacon to similar projects in the years that followed. For the past eleven years she has been Artistic Advisor of Peabody Dance, an adjunct of the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, MD. Most important, her relationship with Pennsylvania Ballet is now strong. Officially, she serves as an Honorary Trustee on the Board of Trustees, but as she says, “I’m still Mommy.”
Barbara Weisberger’s inestimable contributions to the field have earned noteworthy recognition: honorary doctorates from Swarthmore, Temple, Villanova, King’s College, and the University of New England; and prestigious awards which include Pennsylvania State University’s Distinguished Alumni, the Hazlett Award for Excellence in the Arts from the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania Award, and the Gimbel Philadelphia Award, among others. She has served on the National Endowment for the Arts dance panel, on the executive committee of the American Arts Alliance, on the Board of Directors of Dance/USA, and until the Summer of 2011, she was an advisory board member of the Research Center for Arts and Culture, Columbia University in New York.
From child ballet prodigy to dance company founder, Barbara Weisberger has lived the history of American ballet. She turned an incredibly 87 years old in 2013 – the year Pennsylvania Ballet begins its 50th anniversary celebration – and she still plays a pre-eminent role among those who share her concern for the training of young dancers, the enrichment of dance artists, and the future of dance companies in the United States. The force of her efforts and the spirit of her commitment continue unabated.
Opening June 11, 2013
Kimmel Center Poster Exhibit
Pennsylvania Ballet – Celebrating 50 Years
Extraordinary oversized vintage posters adorn the Kimmel Center’s Broad Street entrance wall, capturing the style and grace of five decades of the Ballet’s performances.
Oct 2013 - April 2014
Philadelphia International Airport Vintage Photo Exhibit
Pennsylvania Ballet Celebrates 50 Years
In Terminal F, ticketed passengers will enjoy selected photos from Pennsylvania Ballet’s archives that celebrate the art of movement and the beauty of ballet captured over the last 50 years.
Oct 1 2013 at 6 p.m.
Moore College of Art & Design
As a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Pennsylvania Ballet, students are dedicating this year’s Jumpstart Fashion Show to the fabric called tulle. It has been used for ballet costumes over the years as it has the ability to flow with the music and movement of the dancer’s bodies. The assignment is to use tulle in a contemporary design with a reference to its past use in ballet. Students will share the results at the annual fashion show and exhibit in Moore’s own gallery at the College, 20th Street and The Parkway.
Visit Moore College of Art & Design’s website for event information. >>
Oct 19, 2013
50th Anniversary Gala
Pennsylvania Ballet kicks off this festive season with a spectacular black-tie dinner dance at the Crystal Tea Room honoring founder Barbara Weisberger. Here is your chance to dance WITH our dancers!
Oct 20, 2013 at 3 p.m.
Free Performance for the City of Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Ballet’s gift to the city – a sampler of performance highlights from the past 50 years in a free matinee at the Academy of Music, not to be missed. The performance will be filmed by WHYY in preparation for a national broadcast about Pennsylvania Ballet on PBS. Stay tuned for details.
Nov 17, 2013 at 10 a.m.
Brunch for the Ballet at Saks Fifth Avenue in Bala Cynwyd
Saks Fifth Avenue is hosting a fashion show featuring Pennsylvania Ballet dancers as models! Enjoy a private shopping and a light brunch at Saks Fifth Avenue in Bala Cynwyd.
Nov 2013 - Feb 2014
The Philadelphia History Museum
Behind the Scenes of The Nutcracker
Visitors will experience the magic of creating a live performance, listening to those Philadelphians who actually bring the show to the stage.
Dec 6 - 8, 2013
Pennsylvania Ballet will open its first Nutcracker Market this December at the Kimmel Center of Performing Arts in downtown Philadelphia. The Kimmel Center’s Commonwealth Plaza will be transformed for the Market and will feature 50 carefully selected artists and craftsmen selling hand-made American crafts and speciality gift items. The event is free and open to the public.
More Info >>
March - April, 2014
Philadelphia Free Library Exhibit
A historical look at the Ballet and its place in Philadelphia’s history, including programs, posters, photos, and costumes from Pennsylvania Ballet’s archives.