O.C. Was on Its Toes for ABT

Something was cookin' at the cast party for American Ballet Theatre on Tuesday night.

And it wasn't the rumaki nouveau being whipped up at Scott's Seafood Grill and Bar.

It was the undercurrent, the something-in-the-air that said a biggie is brewing at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Could it concern Henry Segerstrom (managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, owner of South Coast Plaza)? The arts philanthropist will step down from his position as chairman of the Center next month. Maybe it's time for a tribute. Stay tuned.

Segerstrom, who attended the Center performance marking ABT's 50th season but was unable to attend the party, would have been tickled to hear what the dancers plan to do with their free time while they're in town. "Shop!" said Rina Saltzman, manager of ABT. "For us, South Coast Plaza is the big attraction. We love that mall. Being in Saks Fifth Avenue is like being at home" in New York City.

After kicking up their heels in pieces such as "The Birthday Offering" choreographed by Frederick Ashton and "Push Comes to Shove" choreographed by Twyla Tharp, the dancers streamed into Scott's to kick back.

"Segerstrom Hall is fantastic, the best," said Australia-born Ross Stretton, relaxing with a goblet of Chardonnay. "Maybe the Met is the ultimate place to perform, but the Center is fresh and new, and the dressing rooms are lovely. Great audiences too."

Center President Tom Kendrick said few ballet companies reach their 50th anniversary season: "They depend on private support like we do. And there are always changes in administration, things that keep a company living on the edge. Making it to 50 years is why we call ABT our great American ballet company."

Also beaming over the ABT's opening-night performance was Judy Morr, general manager of the Center. "They're dancing better than ever--moving as an ensemble," she said, noting that the engagement marked ABT's third visit to Segerstrom Hall.

"I love ballet," she said. "It's the fusion of music with body movement. It's art alive--better than a painting."

Missing from the bash were two of the company's female superstars: Susan Jaffe (who stole the audience's breath when she twirled before them in a pouf of white tulle spattered with gold stars) and Amanda McKerrow, who danced with her husband, John Gardner.

Jaffe was "exhausted," a fellow dancer confided. "She appeared in three pieces." And McKerrow hung back to take Holly, her English cocker spaniel, for a walk.

"It's a pleasure to be back" in Orange County, McKerrow said from her room at the Beverly Heritage Hotel the following day.

What's the secret to the lilting, fresh style she showcased in "Some Assembly Required"?

"I've worked with many wonderful choreographers," she said humbly. "And I've learned to love doing contemporary pieces like that one. They require that I be more of myself; they give me a sense of who I am. It's wonderful to bring that experience back to my classical ballet when I perform it."

Also at the Center of things: In singer-actress Carol Lawrence's new book, "Carol Lawrence: The Backstage Story," she talks about visiting the Center in 1988 with her son, Christopher, to watch her former husband, Robert Goulet, perform in "South Pacific."

"I wanted to see him . . . ." she writes. "When I called to ask him if I could come backstage after the performance, he was startled. But he agreed. . . .

"Bobby had reserved our seats, and we arrived only a few minutes before the lights were dimmed. . . . From the moment the show began, I felt as if I were seeing Bobby for the first time. It was like watching him in 'Camelot' so many years ago. . . . He still had the magic in his voice."

The battle of the bashes: Not one, but three important bashes are now on the date book for March 31. First came news of the black-tie opening for 2,000 guests of Sports Club/Irvine, where L.A. Lakers coach Pat Riley will receive the Sportsman of the Year Award. Then came news of the elite supper party being staged at the Center Club by the Orange County Philharmonic Society after a Center appearance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. On that invitation list: violin soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter (last month's Vanity Fair called her international career "gilt edged") and industrialist Armand Hammer. And now comes the black-tie opening of the new, $15.5-million Marbella Golf and Country Club in San Juan Capistrano. Attendance by 750 members is expected. On this scorching-hot guest list: Athalie Clark; Gavin Herbert; UCLA football coach Terry Donahue and retired Sen. George Smathers (D-Fla.).

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