R S V P / ORANGE COUNTY : Nijinsky: Spectre Among the Roses : Museum Founder Severin Wunderman Opens His Garden to Cultivate Supporters

S tay on the grass.

That was the mandate at Sunday's tea at the immense Italian villa in South Laguna Beach that belongs to Severin Wunderman, founder of the Severin Wunderman Museum in Irvine.

Guests could sip water under the rose-smothered gazebo, on a patio perched above the roaring sea, but tours of the $10-million Mediterranean digs were forbidden. In fact, if guests even came close to a stairway leading to Wunderman's front door, security guards shooed them away.

"What? We don't get to tour the house? Well, that's two in a row for me," wailed Bowers Museum supporter Donna Karlen (the previous night she attended a Halloween bash in Long Beach where guests were permitted only in the home's art gallery).

"This is strictly a garden high tea," explained Mary Crost, a publicist for the Severin Wunderman Museum. "We are fortunate to have this tea at the home of our founder, and we need to respect his privacy."

What the preview party for the museum's upcoming Vaslav Nijinsky art exhibit lacked in intimacy, it made up for in style.

Tables draped in snow-white cloths were topped with moss and rose covered images of Nijinsky, "the most important dancer of the 20th-Century," rhapsodized William Emboden, the museum's research director.

"He was discovered by Diaghilev in the early 1900s," Emboden continued, "and people were so astonished by his dancing--they'd never seen a dancer elevated to that degree--they insisted on coming backstage to see the wires from which he was suspended."

After an Evian reception, guests were

seated for tea (with sweets and savories catered by Pascal) and a performance of some of Nijinsky's most celebrated works.

On a stage at the center of the garden, where flame-colored bougainvillea bloomed beside lavender roses, dancers who included museum director Tony Clark--once a member of the Paris Opera--performed excerpts from "Giselle," "Sheherezade," "Le Spectre de la Rose" and more.

The opportunity to step through Wunderman's verdi gris garden gates was a first for the Orange County society set, confided Crost. "We want to introduce new people to the museum. This event celebrates the Nijinsky art exhibit that the museum will begin to display on Nov. 7."

In keeping with the tea's rose theme ("Nijinsky actually became the embodiment of a rose," Emboden said), pink missives embellished with rose stickers sat atop each table.

When guests opened them, they found an invitation to join the museum.

Also among guests: Christine Rhoades, Judy Fluor-Runels, Pauline Baker, Donna Peebles with fiance Peter Papke, Len and Mary Ann Miller and Brigitte Harper (who created the dance costumes).


Chanel event: Tickets are still available for Saturday night's appearance by the community outreach performance troupes of Opera Pacific, South Coast Repertory and the Pacific Symphony Orchestra at South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

Chanel is sponsoring the event, which will also include a buffet catered by Wolfgang Puck. For tickets ($75 for festival seating, $120 for reserved), call (714) 474-4488.


UCI Medal Awards: Receiving the UCI Medal--UC Irvine's highest honor--Tuesday night at the Newport Beach Marriott were Arlene Cheng, a music educator; Eric Nelson, founder of Nelson Research and Development Co.; Dorothy Strauss, a retired English instructor, and Michael Berns, director of UCI's Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic.

"These four members of the UCI community embody the true spirit of cooperation, generosity and partnership with the university," said Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening. "Their dedication and service are deserving of our highest recognition."

* NO SCRIBBLES: The dramatic "Vaslav Nijinsky: Art of the World's Greatest Dancer" opens Monday in Irvine. OC Live, Page 3

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