Dance Matters: Fit for a King (of the Dance)

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Photo by RMA Photography, Courtesy SCFTA.



On California’s huge map, Costa Mesa forms a relative pinprick. But for the past 25 years, the Orange County city has been a beacon of international ballet, as world-class troupes perform at the House that Henry (Segerstrom) Built 45 miles south of L.A.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts, situated on a former lima bean field donated by the family of the 88-year-old real estate magnate, comprises four arts spaces, with the Orange County Museum of Art soon to join the campus. The heart of the complex is the 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall, which was inaugurated in September 1986 and celebrates its 25th anniversary season this fall.

“We started with a strong commitment from the community and our board,” says executive vice president Judy Morr. “When Henry got involved, he made it fly.”

With its generous stage and fine sightlines, Segerstrom Hall represents the West Coast’s paramount house for dance. Under the leadership of Morr, one of the nation’s most sophisticated dance presenters, ABT has been a regular presence, and other biggies like NYCB, Paris Opéra Ballet, and the Royal have been frequent visitors, along with the Teatro alla Scala Ballet Company, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, Hamburg Ballet, and Aterballetto.

The Center has special ties with the Russians. The Kirov appeared the year the Berlin Wall fell, in 1989, and the Bolshoi and Eifman quickly followed. Today’s Russian-star–studded extravaganzas, co-produced by Ardani Artists and specially developed for the Center, have included “Diana Vishneva: Beauty in Motion” and “Kings of the Dance.”

The 2011–12 season features the world premiere of Ratmansky’s The Firebird for ABT, San Francisco Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and a new edition of “Kings.” The Access for All program allocates $10 tickets for selected shows, and community programs reach approximately 375,000 students each year.

“This Center has had a core of dance that grew up with the community. It’s been a community that has responded to the best. But I believe people cannot help but respond to dance,” says Morr.

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