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O.C. DANCE / CHRIS PASLES : Ballet Pacifica Celebrates 5 Years of Forward Steps

June 02, 1993|CHRIS PASLES

If anybody wanted to keep score, little Ballet Pacifica would probably rate No. 1 in Orange County for at least one thing. No other local group has performed so much new work.

In the five years since Molly Lynch took over as artistic director, the Laguna Beach-based company has commissioned and danced 21 new works by 18 choreographers.

"I was surprised when I went through and saw what we had done," Lynch said in a recent interview. "It's not as if I set out at the beginning and said, 'In five years, we'll do 21 new works.' But in an effort to move forward and work with interesting choreographers, this is what has happened."

Some of the new work will be on view this weekend as Ballet Pacifica dances Lynch's new "Romeo and Juliet: A Dance Suite" (music by Prokofiev), Monica Levy's "Glass" (music by Morton Subotnick) and Deborah Appleton's "Fantacia" (Tchaikovsky) at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

Levy' work, created last year, is one of the pieces that has come out of the summer choreographers' projects Lynch instituted in 1991. Participants in the July 15-30 workshop will be choreographers Mark Dendy, Paul Estabrook and Kathryn Posin, all from New York, and Robert Sund from San Francisco. (The project will end with a works-in-progress showing on July 31 at 8 p.m. at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa.)

Lynch's piece is her most ambitious effort to date. Lasting about 45 minutes, it is almost twice as long as anything else she's created. Those include "Different Trains" to music of the same name by Steve Reich, "Eight Lines" (also by Reich), "Three Romances" (Schumann), "Les Femmes" (Poulenc) and "Parallel Play" (a collaboration with former UC Irvine composer Paul Hodgins).

"I know I'm sticking my neck out," Lynch said about her new work--especially since so many people are familiar with the versions of "Romeo and Juliet" by such luminaries as Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, Leonid Lavrovsky, Serge Lifar, Kenneth MacMillan, John Neumeier, Rudolf Nureyev, Michael Smuin and Antony Tudor.

But Lynch is not trying to compete with them.

"We're a chamber-sized company, and we're doing a chamber-sized version of 'Romeo and Juliet,' " she said.

Her company consists of nine women and five men. Janine Paulson will dance Juliet and Daren Savage will dance Romeo.

"All the other company members basically double up as townspeople, ball guests, as well as playing individual dancers," Lynch said. "They will be working as an ensemble as well as dancing individual roles."

For music, Lynch has turned to the two suites that Prokofiev derived from his full-length "Romeo and Juliet" score. But because the suites were arranged for maximum musical impact rather than to accompany the plot, Lynch has rearranged them so she could tell the well-known story.

"What I'm trying to do is pull out some of the musical elements that are familiar and important to the story and tell the story in a paired-down way."

Lynch was drawn to the famous story because it "touches lives today. I wanted to depict the emotional elements that I feel come from the story itself. I try to approach them with a sense of the Italian Renaissance, but in a contemporary way."

She also is thinking ahead.

"One thing I see down the line is doing some touring," she said. "You have to think about what you can sell at different venues, universities or colleges or whatever. You put together a program they would be interested in doing. That's part of my thinking in doing this repertory."

Since taking over from founder Lila Zali in 1988, Lynch has seen the company's budget grow from about $178,000 to "slightly over $300,000" this season.

"We earn about 60% of our income through ticket sales and subscriptions and fees for performances," she said. "About 40% comes from individual donations, corporate and foundation and some government support as well. And we have no deficit. We have never had one. That is something to be proud of, for any arts organization these days."

"So far I don't feel we've had any major setbacks or big problems," she added. "I guess I'm sort of a cautious person, so I'm trying to go slowly: One step at a time and be careful about how we grow and not take too big a leap."

The biggest problem the company faces, of course, is simple: How to deal with big-name companies in major metropolitan areas who lure dancers away.

"That is just a fact of this life, this situation," Lynch said. "But I have found over the last five years it's changed slightly for Ballet Pacifica. In my first year or so, we lost a couple of dancers to other companies. One went to Oregon Ballet. One went to dance in 'Phantom of the Opera' in L.A . . .

"On the other hand, starting with the workshops, we have gained two male dancers (Savage and James Cameron) by doing new, interesting works. Each came into the workshops to augment the company and chose to stay on. . . .

"Earlier on, I might have had more problems as dancers got better, with their desire to go and dance with other companies. Now I'm finding it's coming around a little more. Dancers are coming to us because they're interested in doing new work."

So despite the hard work, Lynch is "not ready to walk away from the company."

"I have frustrating days. But there is still a lot I want to do. There are a lot of choreographers I want to work with. I've got a lot more ballets I would like to see this company do, and the company has a lot more growth they'd like to do. So we're plugging away."

* Ballet Pacifica will dance Molly Lynch's new "Romeo and Juliet: A Dance Suite," Monica Levy's "Glass" (Morton Subotnick) and Deborah Appleton's "Fantacia" (Tchaikovsky) on Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine. $12 to $15. (714) 854-4646.

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