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From bean fields to ballet: Segerstrom Center celebrates 25 years

The arts complex in Costa Mesa helped transform the county from a 'cultural desert' between L.A. and San Diego to a place where world-class performers come.

August 25, 2011|By Imran Vittachi, imran.vittachi@latimes.com
  • An aerial view of the first structure being constructed at South Coast Plaza.
An aerial view of the first structure being constructed…

COSTA MESA — Bonnie Hall was there when the cultural ground in Orange County shifted to the rousing sounds of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

On opening night, Sept. 29, 1986, the soprano and other members of the Pacific Chorale sang the vocal climax of the symphony's final movement. They and another O.C.-based chorale accompanied conductor Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a concert inaugurating the county's first world-class music and dance venue.

The Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa was born.

"It was a pretty proud moment for Orange County," said Hall, who later became founding executive director of Arts Orange County, a nonprofit arts advocacy group. "It was a significant symbol of Orange County's declaration of cultural independence from Los Angeles — at least in the performing arts — and it was a catalyst for O.C.-based organizations to aspire to a level of excellence."

OCPAC, which has since expanded and was recently renamed the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, is now preparing to officially commemorate its 25th anniversary on the weekend of Sept. 30 to Oct. 2.

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The name was changed to honor the family who donated parcels of its land holdings in northern Costa Mesa on which the arts complex stands — and who made substantial cash donations toward its development. The center is the county's largest nonprofit arts institution.

The planned celebration promises to be as big and sweeping as the national and worldwide reputation for excellence that the center has established since opening in the autumn of '86.

It has carved out a name particularly as a top Southern California venue for classical dance productions. The center has worked with noted choreographers to stage West Coast and international premieres of classical dance productions, among others.

During the commemorative weekend, the center will offer some free shows along with premium box office programs. To showcase the center's reputation for dance, the San Francisco Ballet will headline jubilee weekend performances, as well as kick off the center's 2011-12 dance season with a separate program Sept. 27-28.

Center officials are billing the upcoming celebration and anniversary season around a theme of inclusiveness. They say they plan to maintain the institution's long-running commitment to educational programs with local schools, and make its range of artistic programming more accessible and appealing to the general public and younger generations.

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