Cash-poor Ballet Pacifica to disband

Times Staff Writer

Barring a $500,000 bailout by donors in the next month, Orange County’s premier ballet troupe will go out of business after 45 years, its two top managers said Monday.

Ballet Pacifica’s remaining performances -- children’s programs scheduled for this weekend and in June at the Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine -- have been canceled, and its training academy will close Friday.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Mar. 28, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 28, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Ballet Pacifica: An article in Tuesday’s California section about the possible closing of Orange County’s Ballet Pacifica said its former artistic director Molly Lynch resigned in 2004. She left in the fall of 2003.

The company’s demise would leave “a rupture in the cultural fabric of our community,” said Bonnie Brittain Hall, executive director of Arts Orange County, an advocacy and support group.

At its peak, she noted, Irvine-based Ballet Pacifica won respect for an artistic vision that went beyond commonplace revivals of “The Nutcracker” and other classic chestnuts.


Under Molly Lynch, who succeeded the Soviet-born founder Lila Zali in 1988, Ballet Pacifica commissioned dozens of new dances and sponsored the Pacifica Choreographic Project, which annually brought leading artists to Orange County to develop dances.

Ballet Pacifica has been in trouble for several years. Two years ago, it failed in an ambitious gamble to relieve its money problems with a burst of growth, when it tried to make the leap from a regional company spending $1.7 million a year to a nationally recognized touring ensemble led by American Ballet Theatre star Ethan Stiefel and fueled by a $6.5-million budget.

But Stiefel resigned as artistic director last March, his star power having attracted only a quarter of the money needed to float his proposed 2006-07 season.

Board President Michael Davis and Melody Wolfgram, the executive director, who tried to pick up the pieces after the Stiefel plan didn’t pan out, said that all the upheaval -- Lynch had resigned as artistic director in 2004 -- drained donor support and alienated students whose fees were needed to help subsidize the professional performances.


The company owes about $270,000, its officers said. A donation of at least $500,000 would keep it going until the end of the year, when its popular production of “The Nutcracker” would give it another infusion of cash.

For Ballet Pacifica to mount another full, high-quality season, it would need a budget of $2.5 million a year, Wolfgram and Davis said.

And despite considerable asking, donors to underwrite its immediate survival have not emerged.

“It’s possible some civic-minded individuals will say ‘We don’t want this to go away,’ ” Davis said, but “we haven’t had any response that would give us reason to believe any cash would be forthcoming.”


Ballet Pacifica’s demise would deepen a widespread belief that Southern California is not fertile turf for dance; Los Angeles has not had a major ballet company since the Joffrey Ballet’s Music Center residency ended in 1990.

The newly launched Los Angeles Ballet aims to fill that gap, although its first season, with a projected budget of $1.7 million, is only a first step toward its goal of becoming “a major company that belongs to L.A.”

“There is going to be a vacuum here for a while,” said Hall, the Orange County arts advocate. “In a community of 3 million people, you would think we could support a strong regional company of our own.”