Orange County audiences may remember Frank Augustyn in the title role of John Cranko's full-length dramatic ballet "Onegin" when the National Ballet of Canada performed at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa in 1988.
In those days, Augustyn and fellow NBC principal dancer Karen Kain were considered among the most celebrated Canadian dance couples.
But he decided to give it all up, even though, at 38, physical limits had not forced the decision.
"I got to a point in my career where I had tremendous need to give back some of what I've learned as a professional dancer," Augustyn said recently by telephone from Ottawa, where he is artistic director of the Ottawa Ballet. "I welcomed the chance to pass down what I had learned and guide a company."
The company he took over was--and remains--small, with a roster of just 14 dancers, including Augustyn, who will dance on a program Saturday at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo.
Formed in 1980 as the Theatre Ballet of Canada, the Ottawa Ballet took on its current name and artistic director, Augustyn, in 1989.
The earlier emphasis was on choreography by former artistic director Lawrence Gradus, according to Augustyn.
"He was moving toward requiring classically trained ballet dancers to perform modern dance-influenced works," Augustyn said. "I wanted to make the dancers, who are hired as classically trained dancers, do classical contemporary work, not (Martha) Graham technique."
The earlier company also performed infrequently in the Ottawa area and Canada. "I wanted to change that aspect of the company and develop a hometown audience," Augustyn said. "No company can survive without local people behind them."
The new strategy appears to be working. The company now averages about 40 performances a year, spread over an eight-month season, Augustyn said. The budget is about $1.2 million.
"We're really developing a nice following, the more work we do," he said.
Still, the company is compelled to tour. "We cannot perform only in Ottawa and expect to sell out," Augustyn said. "The public is not here. There are about 1.2 million people in the Ottawa area. . . . We're not drawing on 6 to 7 million people."
Recently, the company mounted its first full-length ballet, "The Tin Soldier," choreographed by Timothy Spain, a former soloist with the National Ballet of Canada and London's Festival Ballet. The work was set to a commissioned score by Robert Swerdlow.
Augustyn said the ballet was the company's alternate presentation to the annual "Nutcracker" ballet that often functions as a "cash cow" to keep large companies afloat.
"We're not big enough to do 'Nutcracker,' " Augustyn said. "But we could create our own children's ballet. So we did 'The Tin Soldier' primarily for the community, family-oriented audience."
Spain will be represented on the Saddleback program with "The Front," described by Augustyn as "an abstract work with many levels of emotion." The ballet is set to a score by Carl Schultz.
Other dances include Christopher House's "Glass Houses" (music by Ann Southam); Brian MacDonald's "Canto Indio" (Carlos Chavez's "Sinfonia India"); David Parsons' "Sleep Study" (music by Flim and the BBs); Tomm Ruud's "Mobile" (Aram Khachaturian) and Francis Patrelle's one-act ballet "Come Rain, Come Shine," set to a string of Judy Garland songs.
Augustyn will be dancing in "Come Rain, Come Shine."
"It's a highly technical piece that is not easy to dance," he said. "There are a lot of technical challenges and dramatic challenges, and the piece works with and against the lyrics."
What: Ottawa Ballet.
When: Saturday, Feb. 23, at 8 p.m.
Where: McKinney Theatre at Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Parkway, Mission Viejo.
Whereabouts: Take the Avery Parkway exit off Interstate 5 and go east to Marguerite Parkway, turn left and follow road for about half a mile to the campus entrance. Turn right, then follow Theatre Circle Road to the top of the hill. Park in Lot 12.
Wherewithal: $15, general admission; $13 for seniors and students.
Where to Call: (714) 582-4656.