The Pennsylvania Ballet is celebrating its 50th birthday with a new home and a season of collaborations with cultural organizations presenting museum exhibits and lectures that highlight the company's illustrious and sometimes difficult history.
The company's $17.5 million home on North Broad Street, a former garage for Brinks armored cars, includes four rehearsal studios for dancers with the ballet and its affiliated school — re-established last year after a two-decade absence — as well as wardrobe and costuming areas and several small offices. The company for many years had worked out of rented studios and office buildings in several locations.
"This is just the first phase of a much larger project," Michael Scolamiero, Pennsylvania Ballet executive director, said Thursday. An adjacent building is being rehabbed to house administrative offices and meeting space.
The new facility, called the Louise Reed Center for Dance, has plans for ballet classes and community programs to generate new revenue and to give the company a year-round presence.
The ballet also is celebrating its half-century mark with exhibits, films and lectures at a half-dozen museums and other locations during the spring and fall, engagements at the National Arts Center in Ottawa and possibly the Kennedy Center Opera House in Washington, D.C. There also will be a free performance at the Academy of Music in October.
The company's 2013-2014 season kicks off with its first complete performance of George Balanchine's three-act ballet "Jewels" Oct. 17-27. Also planned are company premieres of works by Robert Weiss and Jiri Kylian, world premieres by Trey McIntyre and Matthew Neenan, and annual favorites "The Nutcracker," ''Carmina Burana" and "Coppelia."
"I wanted to pay tribute to the people and some of the work that brought us where we are today," said Roy Kaiser, artistic director. "I (also) wanted to maintain our commitment ... to the creation of new work, and I wanted to continue bringing the work of contemporary choreographers working throughout the profession."
The ambitious lineup of events highlights the ballet's remarkable turnaround from the brink of insolvency two decades ago.
Barbara Weisberger, a dancer and Balanchine protege, founded the ballet school in 1962 and the Pennsylvania Ballet the following year. She left 20 years later amid conflicts with the organization's trustees, and the company was close to financial collapse by the early 1990s.
After defaulting on its mortgage and falling behind on its bills, it spun off its school and sold its building to what is now called The Rock School for Dance Education, which separated from the ballet company in 1992 and became an independent nonprofit. As its financial picture has brightened in the past decade, the ballet worked to re-establish a school and a permanent home.
Weisberger, who was on hand Thursday to unveil the ballet's 50th season plans, was surprised by a cake and choir brought in to celebrate her 87th birthday. She now has a warm relationship with the orchestra and is an honorary trustee.
She said the ballet's success wasn't because it had better dancers or a better repertoire than other companies.
"But nobody was sassier, nobody was braver, and nobody was lovelier," she said. "That's what counts, that's what makes a difference, and I hope that can stay here forever."