"Amazing!" was Rudolf Nureyev's reaction to the Orange County Performing Arts Center when the famed dancer stopped by briefly Sunday to inspect the facility.
"This is the first time a center has been built by someone who has thought of dancers," he said.
Nureyev was on a whirlwind mini-tour to help generate support for his Paris Opera Ballet, which will dance his controversial production of "Cinderella" at the Center on June 14-19, 1988.
Artistic director of the Paris company since 1983, Nureyev sets the plot of the fairy-tale story in Hollywood in the 1930s.
Looking dapper and fit in a stylish brown suit, the 49-year old superstar emerged from a two-toned, green Rolls-Royce sedan to be greeted by Center board chairman Henry Segerstrom and Center president Thomas Kendrick--and a bevy of flash-popping photographers.
To a friend who offered to hold his coat during his 20-minute tour of the facility, Nureyev said: "Don't take my passport."
Though half-jesting about the preciousness of that document, Nureyev turned serious in discussing his recent historic return to the Soviet Union for the first time since he defected in 1961. He was granted only a 48-hour visa.
"I was able to go back and move around without being harassed," he said. "Things seem to have changed."
Nureyev had been trying for more than 10 years to arrange a visit with his family, particularly his mother, who is old and ill.
"She is not very well at all," he said, falling silent. "She did not recognize me."
Later, during a press conference in the posh Center Room, Nureyev confirmed announcements that he will appear in the role of the Hollywood producer in "Cinderella" at the Center in June.
"I will be dancing some performances," he stressed. "But it is a minor role."
As to the success of efforts to raise funds to offset the company's cost of the trip from Paris, Nureyev said:
"Everybody is cheerful and looks generous. It must happen. I hope it will."
Nureyev laughed about a rumor that he would retire when he turns 50 in March.
"I never heard that rumor," he said. "My managers have scheduled another 30 performances next season. . . .
"And I recently danced (Balanchine's) 'Apollo,' (Bejart's) 'Songs of a Wayfarer,' and (David Parson's) 'Two Brothers' in Canada and Los Angeles."
Nureyev's dancing has always received more attention than his choreography, and his production of "Cinderella" drew mixed critical response at its July premiere in New York. But he downplayed the notion that a ballet created for Parisian audiences would not appeal to U.S. tastes.
"You mean that wine doesn't travel well? Why not? Why should we all be uniform?" he said.
"Ballet begins with the French school in Paris (in the 17th Century), then goes to the Kirov (in Russia) and becomes something else. Then it goes to Italy and changes and becomes something else again. . . . But we all speak the same language. It's just pronounced differently.
"I think the differences are very interesting."
Although he said he has been choreographing ballets since 1967, Nureyev added: "Of course, dancing is the most important thing, absolutely."
Combining his roles as dancer and as the company's artistic director, Nureyev expressed intense interest in the dance floor in Segerstrom Hall.
"Is it a good floor? Soft wood?" Nureyev asked as he walked around the set of American Ballet Theatre's production of "The Sleeping Beauty," now at the Center. He tested the resilience of the floor with a few mini-bounces.
"The springy floor will allow me to dance another 10 years," he said, smiling.
Was that a promise?
He repeated the question, with an enigmatic twist:
"Is that a promise? Or a threat?"