Middle Is Means to an End


In Studio 2 of Ballet Pacifica’s spacious new facility, six women and three men stand waiting for the surging lyric impulse that opens Saint-Saens’ Fifth Piano Concerto to send them bounding across the space.

They are under the watchful eye of Dennis Wayne, who is creating a work for them as part of Ballet Pacifica’s sixth annual summer choreographic project. The workshop culminates in a “Works-in-Progress” concert tonight at 8 at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.

“Go!” Wayne shouts. “Go! Don’t stop. Keep it going . . .

“Don’t talk. We talk with our bodies. . . . Eyes! The eyes are as important as the feet.”


Later, over lunch, he explains what is important to him in making a work.

“The music comes first. Music is the force. But I don’t usually start at the beginning of a ballet. I find some high point and work forward and backward from it, asking, ‘How did I get to that?’ ”


Moreover, he wants dancers who will “embellish the steps.


“I want people that dance, rather than dancers doing [an exercise]. I danced with [Carla] Fracci for years, but she never looked me in the eye. She always looked at my forehead. How can you dance a passionate pas de deux like that? I don’t think she ever knew what color my eyes are.”

For the record, they’re blue.

Wayne, who turned 51 on Friday , is one of four choreographers selected for the project by Ballet Pacifica artistic director Molly Lynch, from 22 who submitted videotapes of their work.

The others are Miriam Mahdaviani, who danced with New York City Ballet for 13 years; Stephen Mills, resident choreographer of Ballet Austin; and Rick McCullough, who teaches at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and who created or restaged two works for Ballet Pacifica, “Nothing Less Than Every” in 1992 and “By Lamplight” in 1989.


Wayne comes with an extraordinary background. He was 19 when he joined the Harkness Ballet in 1964, the year it was formed, and he danced with it until it folded in 1969. He then moved to the Joffrey Ballet for four years (he was a principal dancer from 1972 to ’74) and was a soloist with American Ballet Theatre in 1974 and ’75.

He has partnered such luminaries as Natalia Makarova, Alicia Alonso and Gelsey Kirkland, as well as Fracci.

In 1975, he and actress Joanne Woodward created the Dancers troupe, which he ran for 13 years until it folded. He says that he and Woodward no longer speak to each other.


“I don’t know why.

“I am hard to work with,” he ventures. “There is my way and only my way. In Europe, I’m not liked. I’m respected, and if I had to be either liked or respected, I’d rather be respected, if liking means saying things just to be nice.”

That extends to working with dancers. “I don’t take [advice] from dancers.”


The as-yet-unnamed piece that he is creating for Ballet Pacifica actually is a revision of the first ballet he ever made, a work to the same music for eight couples, for the Nice Opera in 1973.

Here, however, he had only “a maximum of three boys and six women” to work with because the company was divided among the four choreographers.

“I would rather have the whole company.” Why? “Because of the music. I use lots of canons and unisons.

“I’d describe it simply as a dance piece. Dance is visual and physical, not intellectual. I’m not an intellectual person. I’m not that deep.”


Getting the images of the earlier version out of his head was a constant struggle. Moreover, he was upset and distracted during his first week in Orange County because his mother had just died.

“Of emphysema. She was 73. I saw her, and I told her I was proud to be her son. . . . She died about an hour later.

“I had a friend who had advised me to get close to my mother before it was too late. About a year ago, I took her to dinner. I was going to tell her everything I disliked about her. I said one thing and, whoosh, I let it all go. Think of the money I saved in psychiatrist bills.”

His father, who is 73, lives in West Palm Beach, where Wayne takes over as artistic director for a project at the Children’s Cultural Center, starting July 29.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, what you do,” he says. “Great dance all starts in little places like Costa Mesa. That’s the great thing about America. Besides, I’m dying to be in a studio. I like this workshop because there’s no pressure to make work or to finish work.”

Passing 50 meant facing up to the end of his dancing days. “I don’t look in the mirror as much,” he says. But he plans to continue as long as he can without disgracing himself.

“I have the same [size] ego as Nureyev. I miss performing. I’m a performer, a ham. Put me on stage, I love it, I embellish it. My mind is willing, but the body doesn’t respond.

“I’ve had a fabulous career. I worked hard for it, but I’ve been lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. I would love to die on stage. I’d like to be Romeo and take real poison on stage. And don’t tell Juliet!”


* Ballet Pacifica will present its sixth annual Pacifica Choreographic Project “Works-in-Progress” concert tonight at 8 at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. $7.50. (714) 851-9930.