||This biographical article is written like a résumé. (May 2008)|
Barbra Milberg Fisher (born 1931) is widely credited with significantly altering the art form of dance. Milberg’s collection of memoirs In Balanchine’s Company shares her rise to stardom and the troubles she faced along the way.
Barbra Milberg was born in 1931. Milberg was the daughter of immigrant Ukrainian Jews; she grew up in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, a voracious reader, and a student of piano. By the age of six, she had suffered through dysentery and a serious bout of pneumonia, and began taking dance lessons —despite the strain on the family finances—to build her strength. In school, Milberg continued to study classical piano and ballet despite her parents wishing her career to involve a profession in physical education.
Background of her memoir “In Balanchine’s Company”
Throughout Milberg’s memoir, she shares her personal experiences growing with the company, the lifestyles dancers had to acquire, and her own vivid memories of touring around the world. While Milberg was given the opportunity to dance for a world-renowned ballet company, she also shared experiences with some of the most memorable choreographers, composers, dancers, and designers of that time.
Road to success
Her career took flight in the fall of 1946. Milberg was invited by George Balanchine to join The Ballet Society. The Ballet Society was defined as a non-for-profit research lab for the arts. Created as an “experimental enterprise” for examining new ideas by Balanchine and Kirstein, the school offered bold imagination and a sense of audacity. At this time, Milberg, at the young age of fifteen, was beginning to make a name for herself. Her first performance was in "Mozart’s Symphony Concert: Corps de ballet" with the Ballet Society. That same year, Milberg was accepted into the well-known high school of Music and Art, and notably promoted from the intermediate to advanced classes at the School of American Ballet. Her life revolved around dance; during the week Milberg would travel between different schools and different classes. On the weekends, she used empty studios to practice. Just two years after the Ballet Society was formed, 1948 would mark the beginning of what would always be known as the New York City Ballet. Soon after in 1950 and 1951, Balanchine took the company on their first overseas trip to London for almost two months. The following year, 1952, the company departed for their first European grand tour. On May 10, 1952, they opened in Paris. A few years later, 1957 would mark the last ballet Milberg would appear in for that company. The year after, 1958, she left Balanchine's company and joined Jerome Robbins' newly formed ballets as a principal dancer. This was the peak of her career.
After her dancing career came to a close, Milberg became a professor of English at the City College of New York.
Significance to Popular Culture
Ballet, as well as ballet production, has always been associated with high culture. High culture is defined as “whose most common meaning is the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture, or denoting the culture of ruling social groups” (High culture-Wikipedia). In recent years though, there have been Hollywood movies such as Centerstage (2000) and Step-Up (2006) that have incorporated ballet into the popular culture audience. Reflecting her devoted fan base, Barbra Milberg has become a part of American popular culture through bring ballet into modern hearts and minds. According to John Storey, the second definition of popular culture is that pop culture is not high culture by stating “Popular culture, in this definition, is a residual category, there to accommodate culture texts and practices which fail to meet the required standards to qualify as high culture” (Storey, 8).
- Aloff, Mindy. The Moscow Times Arts & Ideas. Published March 2, 2007
- Milberg, Barbra F. (2006). In Balanchine’s Company. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
- Storey, John. "What is Popular Culture?" The University of Georgia. Abstract. An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture 2: 1-21