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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 3, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 28
Peabody Dance honors its own ballet visionary

Carol Bartlett, artistic director of Peabody Dance, right, teaches two of her students in Contemporary Dance.

Spring Showcase pays tribute to Barbara Weisberger

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Barbara Weisberger, the distinguished artistic adviser for Peabody Dance, has heard it said that Baltimore is not a dance city. She politely disagrees. For one thing, cities don't dance; people do, she jokes. Or they will, if you reach out and energize their interest.

From the moment she joined Peabody in spring 2001, Weisberger has brought nothing but energy and passion as she has helped transform the Preparatory's community-based dance program, both to keep it in line with contemporary American styles and to respect the art form's classical roots.

To honor her contributions and her 80th birthday, the Peabody Dance Department's annual Spring Showcase will kick off on Saturday with a special tribute to Weisberger.

In addition to performances by Peabody dancers, the two-day Spring Showcase will feature dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet, which Weisberger founded; the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, with which she's had a close longtime connection; and the Baltimore School for the Arts. The Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, one of the leading schools of its kind in the nation, will present dance legend George Balanchine's Harlequinade. The Pennsylvania Ballet will showcase two of its performers in Balanchine's pas de deux from Raymonda Variations.

Barbara Weisberger, artistic adviser for Peabody Dance, works with a student. A leader in the performing arts in the United States, she has been with Peabody since 2001.

The 80th birthday celebration will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 8, in Peabody's Friedberg Hall. The showcase continues on Sunday, April 9, at 3 p.m., also at Friedberg Hall.

A protege and longtime colleague of Balanchine's, Weisberger is internationally recognized for her major contributions to the development of American classical ballet and for her pre-eminent leadership role in the performing arts in the United States.

Weisberger founded the Pennsylvania Ballet in 1962 and led the nationally renowned company for 20 years. In 1984, she spearheaded the conception of the Carlisle Project, a distinctive program based in Carlisle, Pa., for the professional development of choreographers and dancers. During her time with the Carlisle Project, Weisberger met and worked with former Peabody Director Robert Sirota. It was Sirota who recruited Weisberger to Peabody to restructure the ballet program and to bring the Dance Department to even greater prominence.

Peabody Dance was founded in 1914 by two Conservatory alumnae. During its history, the department has offered classes in ballet, jazz, tap, modern, Spanish and even Native American dance — first offered in the 1930s. Today, the program has been streamlined to focus on ballet and contemporary dance, at both the Peabody Preparatory campus in Mt. Vernon and at the school's campus in Towson, situated at the edge of the Goucher College campus.

Weisberger and Peabody Dance artistic director Carol Bartlett have spent the past four and a half years guiding a spirited transformation of a department that currently offers a 32-week season in three main curricula: the Pre-Professional Program, the Young Children's Program and the Open Program.

Faculty member Melissa Stafford sets the pace for children marching in Introduction to Ballet 2. Most of the girls and boys are 6 years old.

The Pre-Professional Program is Peabody Dance's core training curriculum for students ages 7 to young adult. The program offers an intensive graded course of study in ballet and contemporary dance, designed to help motivated and career-minded students meet the dance arena's highest standards.

The Young Children's Program, open to ages 4 to 6, is designed to spark innate creativity and build a foundation for more in-depth technical training. This program offers two levels of training: creative dance for 4-year-olds and introduction to ballet for 5- and 6-year-olds.

The Open Program offers classes in ballet, contemporary dance and Spanish dance for students of all ages and abilities who wish to undertake a less intensive schedule. Technical work is presented in a sequential graded format to meet the needs of students who seek quality training, enrichment and physical fitness.

In addition, Peabody Dance offers a summer program, from late June to mid-August, which provides various multiweek options for students of all ages and all levels.

The department, which has two full-time and six part-time faculty, predominantly teaches those ages 4 to 18. However, Bartlett says that in recent years a greater number of college-age individuals and older adults have been attracted to the programs.

"They all come here for quality training," Bartlett says. "What parents are very attracted to are the performances. We don't do the usual recitals. Our end-of-season production is an actual full-length-story ballet, and we manage to create a very theatrical production that includes kids from age 5 to professional dancers."

The 2005 production was A Midsummer Night's Dream. This year's show, Cinderella, will be held on Saturday, May 20.

Peabody Dance has a strong tradition of collaboration with composers and musicians from the Peabody Conservatory, and Bartlett says it's the department's connection with the Conservatory that makes the performances distinctive.

In fact, Bartlett says that Peabody Dance is on course to become a nationally known program, thanks in large part to Weisberger's vision and guidance.

"What Barbara has brought to the Dance Department is strong contemporary American classicism in ballet, a look often personified by the works and influence of Balanchine," said Bartlett, adding that prior to Weisberger's arrival, the department used the Royal Academy of Dancing approach to training. "She has revamped the ballet program here and attracted new faculty. Her people resources are just incredible."

For her part, Weisberger says that she will continue to reach out to her many contacts and colleagues in the dance field to lift up the level of training even higher.

"I'm hoping that if we all pull together, we can solidify and lift the interest in dance in our city and our region. We already have begun to reach out locally and nationally with guests at our major public performances and with open master classes and guest teachers," she said. "Baltimore can be a dance city. It just needs some energizing."

In connection with the 2006 Spring Showcase and the tribute to Weisberger, a special exhibit of Balanchine photographs will be on view during the month of April in Peabody's Bank of America Lounge.

Tickets for the showcase are $14; $7 for children, seniors and students with ID. Patron tickets, the proceeds from which will be used for Peabody Dance scholarships and to fund new choreography, are available for $45 and include VIP seating, a Saturday post-performance reception and a preview of the Balanchine photo exhibit. For information about regular tickets, contact the Peabody Box Office at 410-659-8100, ext. 1123. For more information on patron tickets and Peabody Dance, go to


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