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. 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 the Company’s first performance of The Nutcracker with second act by George Balanchine in 1968, appearances on PBS’ acclaimed “Dance in America” series in 1977, and a decade of touring including Kennedy Center debut in 1979.
In 1982, co-founder of Nederland Dans Theatre Benjamin Harkarvy, was appointed artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet. With strong European roots, Benjamin Harkarvy expanded Pennsylvania Ballet’s repertoire by introducing European contemporary choreography. Constantly pushing the boundaries and redefining standards; Benjamin Harkarvy knew how to draw in people’s attention, taking risks on new young choreographers.
After a year of European influence, Pennsylvania Balletreached back to their Balanchine roots by appointing Robert Weiss, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet, as artistic director. During his eight years with Pennsylvania Ballet, Robert Weiss kept Mr.B alive within the company, incorporating many works by Balanchine to the company’s repertoire. In 1987, the million dollar holiday production of The Nutcracker was unveiled, including Balanchine’s first act. 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.
Though Robert Weiss exhibited brilliant artistic direction, Pennsylvania Ballet faced severe financial hardships. In 1990, the board hired Christopher d’Amboise to be artistic director with the hope that he would be able to bring the company back from the brink. In March 1991, the community responded and a volunteer group composed of dancers, musicians, theater staff, and others started a grassroots campaign called “Save The Ballet”. By the end of the month, the campaign had raised over a million dollars in donations.
The appointment of artistic director, Roy Kaiser, marked the beginning of a new era for Pennsylvania Ballet. A former company member hired in 1979 by Barbara Weisberger, Mr. Kaiser rose through the ranks from Corps de Ballet to Soloist to Principal. 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 appointed artistic director in 1995.
Under Mr. Kaiser’s leadership, the Company expanded its Balanchine-based repertoire to include bold, innovative new works from both established and emerging choreographers. New works 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. In August 2005, Pennsylvania Ballet made its international debut at the Edinburgh International Festival with its highly acclaimed 40th anniversary commission of Swan Lake by Christopher Wheeldon.
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 of that year 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 and has brought to Philadelphia a new level of passion and energy. During Angel Corella’s first season with Pennsylvania Ballet, he continued the Balanchine tradition while introducing progressive works, diversifying the range of repertoire performed.
Over the past several years, Pennsylvania Ballet has increased its reach through creative programming initiatives such as the Delphi Project, Dance Chance, and other Community Engagement programs, 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.” The School of Pennsylvania Ballet was re-established in 2012, now led by Director Arantxa Ochoa, one of the most celebrated ballerinas in Pennsylvania Ballet history.
Pennsylvania Ballet annually presents a season of six programs (including George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker™ ) at the Academy of Music and Merriam Theater. The Company 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 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.