Title: OCPAC gala seeks to raise reputation
Author: Diane Haithman
Date: May 20, 2009
Publisher: Los Angeles Times
In most cases, a "gala" evening at a venue of the stature of the Orange County Performing Arts Center involves jetting in big-name stars for a one-night stand performing their "greatest hits" for an audience studded with major donors, all in the name of fundraising -- accompanied by a lavish black-tie dinner that requires a gift to the organization affordable only to a moneyed few.
With its "Tour de Force: A Gala Dance Spectacular" on Thursday night at Segerstrom Hall, the center's first gala dance performance of this kind, OCPAC is trying something a little different. It's centered on the world premiere of "Fallen Angel," a new work by Boris Eifman.
Yes, big-name dance stars will be onstage, and they will be available to dine and mingle afterward with audience members who pay $280 to attend the after-party (including a $150 ticket to the show).
But that fee is meager compared with the $375 to $3,500 that San Francisco Ballet-goers forked over to be part of that company's annual opening-night gala in January, an event that raised $1 million for San Francisco Ballet.
Indeed, unlike most galas, "Tour de Force" is not a fundraiser, says OCPAC executive vice president Judy Morr. Ticket sales are expected simply to cover the lean, under-$200,000 budget, which Morr says is less than it might cost to present a lavishly staged performance of a story ballet such as "Swan Lake."
The idea behind this program, Morr says, is to make an investment in OCPAC's reputation as a presenter of international dance and center for the development of new work.
The gala is timed to take advantage of the four-day run of the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia, which is returning with the Southern California premiere of Eifman's "Onegin" tonight; the center can keep gala costs down by tapping the dancers to participate. Though dancers' salaries and travel expenses are covered, they bring their own costumes and perform with recorded music and minimal sets.
Tickets to the gala performance, at $35 to $150, are, relatively speaking, not too much higher than the $25 to $85 patrons will pay to see "Onegin."
The gala will be presented in association with Ardani Artists, under the direction of impresario Sergei Danilian, a longtime associate of OCPAC who has brought European companies to the center and co-produced "Beauty in Motion," last year's showcase for ballerina Diana Vishneva that traveled to Moscow. Danilian's "Kings of the Dance," built around four top-flight male ballet stars, originated at OCPAC in 2006 and also toured to Moscow the following year.
Danilian says that at first he considered a "Queens of Dance"-type event with female dancers, but opted instead to take advantage of the Eifman Ballet's dates to build a program featuring various styles of dance and companies that either have an existing relationship with OCPAC -- or hope to.
The list of international guest artists includes Russian superstars Vishneva and Nikolay Tsiskaridze and performers from the Bolshoi Ballet, Mariinsky Theatre, the Eifman company, Berlin State Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, National Ballet of Canada, American Ballet Theatre and Complexions Dance Company.
Unlike the greatest-hits formats of some galas, many artists will find themselves performing work they have never danced, sometimes with peers they have never worked with.
"This is something unusual," Danilian says. "We have principals from Monte Carlo that have never performed at OCPAC, but when the economy is more stable, we want to bring this company on tour to the U.S. and have OCPAC be one of the places that the company will perform."
He adds, "I would like to cross my fingers and say that if everything goes well, I would like to do this gala at least once every two years, to put together dancers from all over the world and every time do something that is a world premiere." He'd like to see OCPAC leverage future galas for fundraising.
National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Guillaume Co^te', speaking by phone from Milan, Italy, last week during a guest performing gig with La Scala Ballet, called his planned OCPAC appearance in two works new to him "something very different -- I'm not just preparing a pas de deux with my partner and taking it on the road; I'm actually going there for five days, and I'm really looking forward to getting some great coaching."
Observing OCPAC's efforts, Music Center President Steven D. Rountree said that Music Center resident companies often plan a season-opening gala around the premiere of a new opera, music piece or play. He added that some galas there take place less for fundraising than to thank donors or promote the institution.
Still, Rountree says the star-studded approach tends to work well for audience and donor development. "In the case of the opera or the Los Angeles Philharmonic, any of our companies, you are trying to draw in new people who are potential supporters. People are likely to come to see Pla'cido Domingo or Rene'e Fleming even if they are not deeply engaged yet with opera," he says.
And they crave the opportunity to meet the performers at the gala party. "That's part of the behind-the-scenes stuff that, in the performing arts anyway, people really love," Rountree says.
Dancers have a special challenge at parties; patrons often want to take a turn with them on the dance floor. Co^te' expects to be busy Thursday. "Oh, yeah, some of them can really kick it," Co^te' says, adding that he has to be careful -- there's nothing worse than to injure a potential donor.