Get used to it: Ethan Stiefel will soon be everywhere. He's Ballet Pacifica's new artistic director—moving to Orange County this summer—but you can preview him this weekend in "The Kings of Dance," a sort of Three Tenors on tiptoes-style that is, he says, "built to tour."
Well, except it's four dancers—Stiefel, plus American Ballet Theatre's Angel Corella, Royal Ballet's Johan Kobborg and Bolshoi's Nikolay Tsiskaridze—dancing five world-premiere works. Which means that in three weeks, Stiefel has had to learn a new, 17-minute ballet choreographed at the Orange County Performing Arts Center by one of his childhood New York City Ballet peers, Christopher Wheeldon. Stiefel's also premiering a new piece, Wavemaker, to music by John Adams. He's also dancing in the Flemming Flindt's The Lesson, with the Royal Ballet's lighter-than-air ballerina Alina Cojocaru (each star dances the ballet with her one night). And he still has a day job with American Ballet Theatre in New York.
"Right now, these two months, if I get through it, I'll breath a sigh of relief, since everything is converging," Stiefel says. His arrival in June or July, like that of "Kings," is a sign that Orange County is maturing into a destination for innovative, premier dance. Not only does Stiefel have two premieres in "Kings," but its three other firsts are equally jaw-dropping. Corella will dance a work choreographed by Stanton Welch (the director of Houston Ballet), Kobborg will perform a piece by Tim Rushton, and Tsiskaridze will perform choreography by Roland Petit. And it's here first—then on to New York City.
Which explains why more than 100 dancers lined up to audition for the chance to dance with Ballet Pacifica and earn better than minimum wage doing it. Ballet Pacifica's annual budget is around $6 million, which includes a Nutcracker—ballet's cash cow—and room for 25 dancers at $1,000 per week plus benefits.
"I see it as a necessity for dance, not just dance in Southern California," he says, "Artistically, once we create an atmosphere and an environment that will create dancers [who] are happy and fulfilled—and create dance that balances traditional ballet—we'll light the world on fire. If we do the first year and don't have a second, I'll be very surprised. I think the hardest thing is the first year."
ETHAN STIEFEL PERFORMS THE LESSON WITH "THE KINGS OF THE DANCE" AT THE ORANGE COUNTY PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 600 TOWN CENTER DR., COSTA MESA, (714) 556-2787; WWW.OCPAC.ORG. SAT., 8 P.M. OTHER "KINGS" PERFORMANCES, THURS.-SAT., FEB. 16-18, 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 P.M. $20-$75.