Pennsylvania Ballet

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In 1962, Barbara Weisberger, a protégé of George Balanchine, started the School of the Pennsylvania Ballet to train dancers for her forthcoming dance company. The “Philadelphia Ballet” was officially founded the following year, although a legal dispute with a school of a similar name led her to change the company’s name to The Pennsylvania Ballet. George Balanchine served as artistic advisor and the Ford Foundation provided the funds to help the struggling company establish itself. The first performance was given on April 16, 1964 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Irvine Auditorium, initiating over four decades of ballet in Philadelphia.

In the 1960s, Weisberger shepherded the company into the national spotlight, gaining stability from the company’s repertoire of Balanchine ballets. One of his works, Concerto Barocco, became the ballet’s signature piece. In 1972 Benjamin Harkarvy became the artistic director. A few years later, Weisberger initiated the company’s summer residency at Penn State University, through which several future principal dancers were discovered. In the 1970s, the company toured the United States, including the West Coast, and held residencies at several Mid-Atlantic universities and cultural institutions. 1977 saw a restructuring of the administration and the resignation of several dancers. In the last few years of the decade, the company went through severe financial hardships and administrative tension, which culminated in the suspension of operations in the spring of 1982. Shortly after, Weisberger and Harkarvy both resigned.

The Board of Directors replaced Weisberger and Harkarvy with Peter Martins as executive director and Robert Weiss as artistic director. Dane LaFontsee became assistant artistic director. Under their leadership, the company gradually reduced its debt, and continued to tour and perform regularly. It performed original choreography by Peter Martins, Robert Weiss, Paul Taylor, Anthony Tudor, Merce Cunningham, Lynn Taylor-Corbett, Richard Tanner, and George Balanchine. In 1987, the company embarked on a joint venture with the Milwaukee Ballet, in which the two companies combined to form one company, which performed in both Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Due to financial difficulties, this venture did not last past the 1988 season.

In 1990, there was another turnover in administrative positions, with Robert Weiss and Richard Tanner resigning from the positions of artistic director and artistic associate, respectively and Christopher d’Amboise was ultimately hired as artistic director.

The company had further financial difficulties and in March of 1991 the board of directors decided to suspend operations for the second time in the company’s history. Rather than suspend performance, the dancers decided to work without pay to finish the season. To alleviate the company’s debt, a volunteer group composed of dancers, musicians, theater staff, and others started the “Save The Ballet” campaign. By the end of March, 1991, the campaign had raised over one million dollars from individual donations, allowing dancers and staff to finish the season.

In 1994, Roy Kaiser was elected as artistic director, becoming the first artistic director to come up through the ranks of corps de ballet, soloist, principal dancer, ballet master, and associate artistic director. Kaiser currently (2011) serves as artistic director, guiding the Pennsylvania Ballet through seasons of traditional ballet performances and more modern pieces. The company performs throughout the United States and abroad, also creating cultural outreach programs in Philadelphia like the Family Matinee Series and the Prologue Lecture Series.

Bibliography:

Pennsylvania Ballet. “Our Story,” Pennsylvania Ballet website: http://www.paballet.org/history.html (Accessed 10/11/2010 and 5/19/2011)

Pennsylvania Ballet. “Company Milestones.” Pennsylvania Ballet website: http://www.paballet.org/company_milestones.html (Accessed 10/11/2010)

“A Chronological History of the Pennsylvania Ballet.” 1993 May. Box 69 Folder 5.

From the guide to the Pennsylvania Ballet records, 1963-2004, (Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn David McLain and David Blackburn Program Collection, 1940-1981 University of Cincinnati, Archives and Rare Books Library
referencedIn Malinsky, Barbara,. Dance in Pennsylvania : the nation's first steps :[exhibition] 1982-1983, The Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Pennsylvania Ballet. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Pennsylvania Ballet collection, [ca. 1968-ongoing]. Museum of Performance & Design
referencedIn Benjamin Harkarvy papers, 1910-2003 The New York Public Library. Jerome Robbins Dance Division.
referencedIn Balanchine Celebration (Washington, D.C. : 2000) [clippings] New York Public Libraries for the Performing Arts, Dance Collection
creatorOf Harkarvy, Benjamin. Benjamin Harkarvy papers, 1910-2003. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Pennsylvania Ballet records, 1963-2004 Temple University Libraries Special Collections Research Center
referencedIn Stravinsky-Diaghilev Foundation research files, 1920-1989. Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn George Balanchine archive, 1924-1989 (inclusive), 1961-1983 (bulk). Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Balanchine, George. person
associatedWith Harkarvy, Benjamin. person
associatedWith Malinsky, Barbara, person
associatedWith McLain, David person
associatedWith Stravinsky-Diaghilev Foundation. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Ballet
Dance companies
Dance
Performing Arts
Occupation
Activity

Corporate Body

Active 1910

Active 2003

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