Our Story, Our Mission, and Our History
Pennsylvania Ballet is committed to making dreams of dance come true. When the Company was founded in 1963 by Barbara Weisberger it was her dream, fostered and encouraged by George Balanchine, to not just bring the best in dance to Pennsylvania, but to develop local talent to become great dancers. Her dream has been fulfilled again and again over the decades as the Company has flourished, first under Ms. Wiesberger’s direction and then with a number of illustrious Artistic Directors including Benjamin Harkarvy, who had extensive experience in Europe; Robert Weiss and Christopher d’Amboise, both of whom danced for Mr. Balanchine at New York City Ballet; and Roy Kaiser who was a Pennsylvania Ballet dancer before becoming Artistic Director for nearly two decades.
With the appointment of Angel Corella to the role of Artistic Director in 2014, the Company has moved into a new phase of its development. With Angel’s experience as both a dancers and a director of his own company in Spain, the Company is increasingly reflecting the broader world of dance. This shows in the breadth of works being performed, as well as in the increasing interest from dancers around the world interested in joining the Company.
Under Angel’s direction the Company is dancing with new energy and excitement which has been noted by critics and audiences. Looking forward, Angel is programming works that honor the Company’s Balanchine roots, full-length classics in which Angel excelled, internationally recognized contemporary works of the finest caliber, and new commissions by choreographers both established and emerging.
In addition to making dancing dreams come true on stage, the Pennsylvania Ballet organization strives to share the joy of dance throughout our community. Pennsylvania Ballet II performs across the region, introducing new audiences to the beauty of dance, The School of the Pennsylvania Ballet is making dreams come true for the next generation of dancers by offering the very finest in dance education, and Pennsylvania Ballet Community Engagement programs help people connect to their own dreams of dance; sometimes in theaters, sometimes in our studios, and often in schools, community centers, and health facilities.
Pennsylvania Ballet has been making dreams come true for 53 years, and the future has never looked brighter.
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
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 42 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 young students 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.
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.