California's Ballet Pacifica to Shut Down

Classic Arts News   California's Ballet Pacifica to Shut Down
Ballet Pacifica, Orange County's oldest (and only) professional ballet company, will close this week, according to a statement on its website.

The final day of classes at the company school will be this Friday (March 30), and in the upcoming weeks a skeleton staff will shut down operations, as well as continue to seek new funding for a potential re-opening, according to the company.

Executive director Melody Wolfgram said in the statement, "We have no way to know at present what the future might hold, of what shape and size Ballet Pacifica might become. We are hopeful of finding some white knights, who could carry us forward — but we are all realistic about the reality of sustaining the organization as it has been for the past few years."

The Orange County Register quotes Michael Davis, president of Ballet Pacifica's board of directors, as saying that said the school, which had an operating budget of $1.6 million, was spending more than it earned. The number of students enrolled dropped from 200 in May 2006 to 100 this year.

Ballet Pacifica was founded in 1962 by Laguna Beach teacher Lila Zali, a former dancer with the Ballet Russe. It grew from a one-woman operation to a professional ballet troupe with a regular season at the Irvine Barclay Theatre; its repertory included ballets by locally-based choreographers, such as former director Molly Lynch and David Allan, and masterpieces by George Balanchine.

The news reportedly shocked parents, students, teachers and community members, who knew that the company was in trouble, but didn't believe it would shut down.

"We are all just in total shock," the Register quotes Sharon Kircher, who has two daughters at the school, as saying. "I think what is really devastating to us is that we got only four days' notice. That's very disrespectful to us as parents and unkind to our children."

The paper adds that company officials painted a different picture about the organization's situation only last December, when Davis said the board had "resolved that we would continue." In July, the board reportedly spent $25,000 on sets and costumes for a new production of The Nutcracker directed by the academy's new director, Evelyn Cisneros-Legate, a former dancer with San Francisco Ballet. Wolfgram said the performances brought in $328,000, while an additional $127,000 in donations was received, according to the paper.

Since May 2004, when its remaining professional dancers were dismissed, Ballet Pacifica has been functioning as a school only. However, writes the Register, the organization retained a relatively large administrative staff for a local ballet studio, including three full-time administrators, an academy director and assistant director, plus a part-time faculty of 16.

The paper adds that the company has been on shaky ground since Molly Lynch, a student of Zali's who ran the company from 1988 to 2003, resigned. American Ballet Theatre's Ethan Stiefel came on board as artistic director in December 2004, but resigned last year, when the board failed to raise the $2.8 million needed to fulfill his ambitious plans.

In the statement, Cisneros-Legate said, "I am deeply saddened at the lack of greater support and commitment to creating a ballet company and maintaining a high standard ballet Academy in the Southern California area ... I have appreciated the opportunity to share my knowledge from thirty years in ballet, and my heart breaks that I will not be able to see each dancer mature, develop and have a studio to train, and enjoy the quality Ballet Pacifica has had to offer."

The Los Angeles Times points out that Ballet Pacifica's demise will "deepen a widespread belief that Southern California is not fertile turf for dance," as Los Angeles has not had a major ballet company since the Joffrey Ballet's Music Center residency ended in 1990.

The paper adds that the newly launched Los Angeles Ballet hopes to plug 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."

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