American Ballet Theatre star Ethan Stiefel resigned Thursday as artistic director of the Irvine-based Ballet Pacifica.
Stiefel's resignation, 15 months after he agreed to assume the leadership of the 46-year-old company, abruptly ended the latest effort to transform it from a struggling regional troupe to a national player.
"One of the deciding factors in this decision was the cancellation last week of the 2006-07 season, which had been in the planning stages for 18 months and was ready for rehearsals to start in September," Stiefel said in a statement.
"I am extremely proud of my artistic team and the many things we have been able to accomplish in preparation of a unique ballet company. I hope that one day the local talent will have a place to pursue their dreams in their own backyard."
Last Friday, board President Janet Ray announced that the company was postponing the season to restructure and raise money. She said that more than $1.5 million had been pledged toward Stiefel's proposed first-season, $6.5-million budget but declined to say how much was actually in hand.
Ray also announced the resignation of Executive Director Thomas Gulick and the appointment of businesswoman Melody Wolfgram as interim management director.
Wolfgram said Thursday: "We're saddened by this, but we wish Ethan well and we're sorry he's not going to make this journey with us."
She said it was too early to tell what impact Stiefel's resignation would have on fundraising.
"We are just starting the process of informing our donors," she said. "Already I've had some very good feedback and support. I will be able to tell you more after a couple of weeks."
In his statement, Stiefel offered to consult through July 30. Wolfgram said the board was likely to agree to that offer.
Stiefel told The Times last year that he planned to hire a company of 20 to 25 permanent members by this month, schedule 25 to 30 weeks of repertory performances in Southern California and on tour and present a production of George Balanchine's lavish "Nutcracker" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in December.
Auditions were held in Orange County and New York, but no dancers were contracted.
The cancellation leaves OCPAC less than eight months to find a new "Nutcracker."