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."