Barbara Weisberger: En Pointe
Barbara Weisberger: En Pointe is a one-hour WVIA original biographical documentary that chronicles the impassioned life of the founder of the Pennsylvania Ballet and celebrates her significant contribution to the development of ballet in the United States. The title of the documentary, pronounced “En Pwent”, is taken from ballet’s central image—the ballerina performing on the tips of her toes—one of the most difficult and delicate techniques in the art of dance. Like Barbara Weisberger’s life, mastering En Pointe requires years of commitment, and reflects a simultaneous expression of skill, strength and suppleness.
Barbara Weisberger's career in ballet is dramatically entwined with the history of ballet in America. At the age of three, she began training near where she lived in the mid-1930’s Brooklyn. By age eight, her teacher recognized Barbara’s prodigious gift for dance, and introduced her to a young Russian choreographer – George Balanchine.
Intending to form an American classical ballet company, Balanchine founded the School of American Ballet to develop a source of mature professional dancers. But Balanchine also saw something special in Barabara Weisberger, and so he made an exception and invited her to be his first child pupil. While he was establishing his school, Balanchine choreographed opera ballet at the Metropolitan Opera, and when there was a need for a child dancer in a production there, he would cast Barbara. Imagine dancing in front of a live audience at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City – at age eleven.
In the early 1940’s, Barbara’s family decided to move to Wilmington, Delaware, and with that her relationship with Balanchine ended. But a chance meeting in an elevator years later rekindled their association, and with “Mr. B’s” help, Barbara Weisberger spread the gospel of his choreography through Pennsylvania Ballet. By the early 1970’s she had elevated the company to international renown.
Weisberger’s tenaciousness in establishing a ballet company in Philadelphia resulted in the decentralization of ballet. As a result, American ballet flourished.
In 1982, Weisberger abruptly resigned from the company she had been artistic director for the past 20 years after irreconcilable disagreements with the board of directors. Two years later, she created The Carlisle Project, a process-driven center for the professional development of established and burgeoning ballet choreographers and dancers. The Carlisle Project would serve as a catalyst in the evolution of American ballet that is still being felt today.
WVIA has assembled a remarkable cast of interview commentators and an entertaining range of archival material to complement and illustrate Barbara’s stories.
Interviews have been completed with Edward Villella, currently the founding Artistic Director and CEO of the Miami City Ballet, Clive Barnes, current dance critic for the New York Post and previously the chief dance critic for the New York Times during Barbara Weisberger’s tenure at Pennsylvania Ballet, Kirk Peterson, current Artistic Director for the American Ballet Theater Studio Company in New York City, Carol Bartlett, Artistic Director for Dance at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, Roy Kaiser, current Artistic Director of Pennsylvania Ballet, and Barbara Sandonato, an original principal dancer in Pennsylvania Ballet, among others. These individuals offer remarkable insights into Barbara Weisberger’s career and take the audience behind-the-scenes in the evolution of ballet in America during the second half of the 20th century.
The documentary presents exquisite excerpts from Pennsylvania Ballet’s national television performance on the inaugural 1976 broadcast of the PBS series Dance In America: The Pennsylvania Ballet. Additionally, numerous photographs have been acquired from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, the Pennsylvania Ballet archives, and from Barbara Weisberger, who provided never-before-seen photographs from her personal collection of from-the-wings images of company rehearsals, classes and performances.
Original footage of the 2007 Pennsylvania Ballet Company has also been shot at during a class at its studio in Philadelphia. Transitional sequences within the narrative blend the music of Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky with graphically composed images shot during the class. The strength, skill and suppleness of the dancers is revealed through their body movement, and reflects back to Barbara Weisberger the courage of her convictions.
Barbara Weisberger: En Pointe is the fourth in the series Great Pennsylvanians, produced by WVIA to recognize individuals from northeastern Pennsylvania whose achievements bring honor to all Americans and who are models for young people. Previous documentaries portrayed the lives of former Governor William Warren Scranton, United States Federal Judge Max Rosenn, and Monsignor Andrew McGowan.