In the wake of a year of financial and administrative upheavals, the Philadelphia-based Pennsylvania Ballet has engaged 33-year-old Robert Weiss, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, as artistic director for the 1982-83 season, it was disclosed yesterday. Peter Martins, one of the NYC Ballet's most celebrated dancers and a choreographer as well, will become artistic adviser to the Pennylvania troupe.
In a statement issued yesterday, the executive committee of the Pennsylvania Ballet board of trustees noted that it had failed to reach a satisfactory contract agreement with former artistic director Benjamin Harkarvy, who has held the post since 1972 and headed the troupe when it appeared for a week of performances at the Kennedy Center Opera House this past May. The statement said the principal "area of conflict" between Harkarvy and the board was the former's request for a multiyear contract the board termed "unrealistic." "The Executive committee acknowledges with gratitude and appreciation the growth of the company under his Harkarvy's artistic leadership," the statement said.
Harkarvy could not be reached for comment yesterday. The company's public relations director, David Vass, said the parting had been "amicable."
The company has scheduled a press conference for tomorrow afternoon to introduce Weiss and Martins in their new posts.
Weiss said yesterday by telephone from New York: "I'm very excited about this new responsibility. Because the Pennsylvania Ballet is in such proximity to New York, I think it may well serve as a third alternative--to the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre--as a major classical company for the many excellent dancers we have today." Weiss also said that George Balanchine, ballet master of the NYC Ballet, had offered every support, including his ballets, to help insure Weiss' success. Balanchine was instrumental in the founding of the company in 1963 by his friend and former pupil Barbara Weisberger, but according to recent reports, had said he would withdraw his ballets--there have been 11 in the company repertory--from the Pennsylvania Ballet in the wake of Weisberger's resignation from the troupe last February.
In January of this year, the company named Charles Rannells president and chief executive officer and then announced a temporary suspension of activities and payroll in order to reduce more than $2 million in outstanding debts. Weisberger resigned after the board asked her to take a temporary leave of absence.
New York-born Weiss, who studied at the School of American Ballet, joined the NYC Ballet in 1966 and has been a principal dancer since 1977; he is noted for his exceptional elevation and technical virtuosity. His last performance with the company was a week ago at the Saratoga (N.Y.) Performing Arts Center. He also has created a number of ballets and said yesterday that he hoped to work with the Pennsylvania troupe as a choreographer as well.
"At the moment," he said, "I intend to concentrate on running the company and have no plans to dance, but I would hesitate to say that I'm retiring as a dancer at this point." His duties as artistic director will begin in September and he intends to move to Philadelphia, he said. Weiss also remarked that although the company still faced financial difficulties, the situation was much improved. "They've raised a lot of money over the past few months," he said.