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A Blooming Good Show at Art Museum

April 30, 1987|DAVID NELSON

SAN DIEGO — The 550 guests at Tuesday's preview of the sixth annual "Art Alive" floral extravaganza at the San Diego Museum of Art found themselves confronted by vibrant collations ranging from the Lilliputian to the monumental, all designed to echo the themes of selected works of art in the museum. Blossoms turned up in the most unexpected places--even, by Chairman Barbara Malone's fiat, in the champagne flutes.

Three dozen floral designers, interior decorators and garden clubs joined forces to make spring bloom indoors. The show, organized by Mary Allan, continues from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. today. Admission is $6. At noon, New York floral designer Ronaldo Maia will autograph copies of his work, "Decorating With Flowers."

Saturday's Orient Express Gala, the fifth of these annual 1920s-style hoedowns for the benefit of the local branch of the National Kidney Foundation of Southern California, was not as wild as the one given last year.

No, indeed--this one was wilder.

Wildlife invaded the 1986 event, in the form of cheetahs and other critters brought by the San Diego Zoo's Joan Embery, and friendly beasts under Embery's tutelage again showed up Saturday at the U.S. Grant's Grand Ballroom.

But the real wildlife stalked the turf on two legs. When Chairman Michael Corrigan thanked the crowd of 300 for "dancing between the courses," he may have been thanking them for not dancing in the aisles. Certainly, the waiters who served the meal of crab-stuffed pasta, duck breast and chocolate marzipan torte were grateful for this small display of restraint.

Orient Express always follows a certain course (quite literally), in that it takes its guests on an imaginary trip on the legendary Venice-Simplon Orient Express, for nearly seven decades known as "the train of kings and the king of trains." It is a likable fantasy: Guests check in at the London station, where they receive their passport-programs, then journey on through dinner and dancing to a Monte Carlo casino and, finally, Istanbul's Marrakesh Market, where belly dancers and fortune tellers wait to tease and tantalize.

To lend authenticity, the party had always been given at the Santa Fe Depot, but several factors persuaded the committee to shift this year's site to the U.S. Grant, a locale that provided several unexpected blessings. Among these was the cavernous Presidential Suite, which housed an early VIP reception and proved a suitable embarkation point for the seven-hour-long evening.

The reception was co-hosted by Keith Rennison of the Orient Express (the railway company always donates a trip for two to the party), and by San Diego Charger Eric Sievers and his wife, Diana. The Sieverses did their best to live up to the party's Jazz Age and black tie-with-ribbons (military, of course) dress code, but they said it was not easy. Eric replaced medals with a pair of crutches, earned valiantly enough upon the turf of a dozen stadiums, and Diana, unable to find a flapper-era maternity outfit, contented herself with a vintage, feathered headache band.

Co-chairman Don McVay, on the other hand, met the dress code, and then some. His gold-brocaded crimson tunic, borrowed from the Old Globe Theatre (it was used to costume the character of Benedict in last summer's "Much Ado About Nothing"), caught the eyes of hotel guests as well as of partygoers, to the point that he was asked to carry bags and fetch taxis. Others at the VIP reception were local Kidney Foundation President Michael Weaver and his wife, Valerie; Rolf Benirschke; Norma and Sam Assam; Katherine L'Hommedieu; Jennifer Wilson; Pat and Frank Montalbano, and Julie and Tom Hall.

Casino games, played for chips redeemable for raffle tickets on a New Orleans travel package, bracketed the dinner. But much action took place in the ballroom, given an unusual configuration by placing the orchestra to the side of the stage, rather than upon it.

The purpose behind this aberration became obvious after dessert, when the curtains parted to reveal an amazing tableau vivant of the Marrakesh Market, replete with belly dancers, costumed peddlers, soothsayers and exotic animals. (A boa constrictor found master of ceremonies Bill Griffith's shoulders a comfortable perch, and the creature proved such a general favorite that local foundation Vice President Lenora Shaw suggested that snakes should be distributed as door prizes.)

In keeping with the '20s theme, the entertainment also included an attention-grabbing series of tangos performed by a pair of professional dancers.

Among guests were Christie and John Faires, Debbie and David Hawkins, Joan and David Ward, Chargers coach Al Saunders, Virginia Butterfield, Pat and Jim Babcock, Martha Hall and Marlee Ehrenfeld.

CORONADO--Attorneys have been known to make waves, but the "Attorney Fees 'Waved' " item, donated by legal eagle Mike Johnson to the auction at Friday's "All That Glitters" was a little out of the ordinary.

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