Surprise of the week for West Coast ballet lovers: Tiny, beleaguered, Orange County-based Ballet Pacifica has landed American Ballet Theatre mega-star Ethan Stiefel as its new artistic director. He?ll lead the troupe while maintaining his performing career, electing ABT alumni Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner co-directors in his absence, and re-igniting dreams of high-quality ballet finding a home in Southern California. Big changes are being conceived, according to Laura Bleiberg?s detailed coverage in the Orange County Register:

?While he will consider Ballet Pacifica’s current dancers for positions with his group – their contracts expire in May – he would like to hold open auditions in New York, Southern California and in the middle of the country, possibly Chicago. The company would increase from its current nine dancers to 18 or 20 dancers for the first season, which tentatively would begin in January 2006.

Within three years, the company’s operating budget will increase more than threefold from the current $1.7 million to $6.5 million, Gulick said. Stiefel’s star power among potential donors will be especially important then, as the company needs to raise more money than it ever has.

Stiefel’s salary is still being negotiated, but Gulick said his compensation is “within our working budget.” Though salaries for artist directors vary, a company with a budget in the $6 million-$7 million range may pay $120,000 to $140,000 a year, said John Munger, director of information services for Dance/USA, a national service organization.?

What Bleiberg doesn?t fail to note is that Stiefel is untested as an AD, unless you count his touring ensemble ?Stiefel and Stars.? Still it seems the big money in Orange County is talking, and the excitement is rolling . . .

Link via Ballet Alert!.

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