History & Mission
Pennsylvania Ballet is one of the premier ballet companies in the United States and has been at the forefront of American dance since 1963.
A leading Philadelphia cultural institution, the Company has earned a national reputation for its impassioned artistry and technical virtuosity, and has received widespread critical acclaim for its performances of a diverse classical and contemporary repertoire with a Balanchine base. The energy and exuberance of its versatile dancers are the Company’s enduring signature.
The Company was established in 1963 by Barbara Weisberger, a protégée of George Balanchine, through a Ford Foundation initiative to develop regional professional dance companies. A leader in the regional ballet movement of the 1960s, the Company performed in the national spotlight for the first time in 1968 at City Center in New York — a highly successful debut that led to a decade of national touring, appearances on PBS’ acclaimed “Dance in America” series, and a stint as the official company of the Brooklyn Academy of Music during the 1970s. From 1987 to 1989, Pennsylvania Ballet forged an alliance with Milwaukee Ballet in an unprecedented venture to create one company. The new organization, with 43 dancers and a greatly expanded repertoire, was the first in the country to offer its dancers year-round employment.
In 1995, the Trustees of Pennsylvania Ballet selected its first homegrown artistic director, Roy Kaiser. A former company member hired in 1979 by Barbara Weisberger, Mr. Kaiser rose through the ranks from Corps de Ballet to Soloist to Principal by 1990. Following his retirement from the stage in 1992, Mr. Kaiser served as Principal Ballet Master and Associate Artistic Director under Christopher d’Amboise before being named to his current position.
Under Mr. Kaiser’s leadership, the Company has expanded its Balanchine-based repertoire to include bold, innovative new works from both established and emerging choreographers. New works have included premieres of original ballets from choreographers such as Merce Cunningham, Christopher d’Amboise, Trey McIntyre, Matthew Neenan, David Parsons, Val Caniparoli, Benjamin Millepied, and Christopher Wheeldon, as well as the highly acclaimed 40th anniversary commission of Swan Lake by Christopher Wheeldon and the 2007 world premiere of Matthew Neenan’s Carmina Burana.
Currently comprised of 40 dancers, Pennsylvania Ballet annually presents a season of six programs (including George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ ) that balances classic ballets with new works that challenge the dancers and attract a diverse audience. The Company also tours throughout Pennsylvania and the East Coast to venues such as New York City Center and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Company made its international debut at the Edinburgh International Festival in August 2005.
Over the past several years, Pennsylvania Ballet has increased its reach through creative programming initiatives such as the Family Matinee Series and lecture series, and its Community Engagement program, which serves over 11,000 youngsters each year. In 2002, Pennsylvania Ballet II, the Joyce and Herbert Kean Trainee Program, was created as a pre-professional training company that also performs outreach and educational activities in area schools. In 2010, Pennsylvania Ballet dancers performed in the Academy Award-winning film “Black Swan.” In Fall 2011, the Company unveiled plans for a $17.5 million building project – the Louise Reed Center for Dance. The School of Pennsylvania Ballet was reestablished in 2012, now led by Director Arantxa Ochoa, one of the most celebrated ballerinas in Pennsylvania Ballet history.
In April 2014, Roy Kaiser announced his plans to step down after 19 years as Artistic Director and now serves as Artistic Director Emeritus. In July, the Board of Trustees appointed Angel Corella, widely regarded as one of the finest dancers of his generation, to be the Company’s next artistic director. Corella began his tenure with Pennsylvania Ballet in August 2014.
The mission of Pennsylvania Ballet is to maintain and nurture a financially sound, Philadelphia-based ballet company that presents the finest in artistry and performance to the widest possible audience, expands and diversifies its classical and contemporary repertoire and provides the highest caliber of instruction for aspiring professional dancers. Pennsylvania Ballet strives to enrich and expand the cultural lives of children and adults of the Greater Philadelphia region by educating its citizens about and through the art of ballet.