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Meeting Misha : Guests Pay $200 Each to Party With Baryshnikov at AIDS Benefit

August 09, 1993|KATHRYN BOLD

Like modern dancers, they stood on their toes and craned their necks. For 600 party-goers, it took strength and dexterity to catch a glimpse of Mikhail Baryshnikov immediately following his dancing debut in Orange County.

For the first time ever, the legendary Baryshnikov performed Thursday on a local stage--the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa.

His opening night performance with the White Oak Dance Project, the four-year-old modern dance troupe he founded, was followed by a "Together for the Cure" AIDS benefit at the nearby Center Club. Guests paid $200 each to party with Baryshnikov, raising $130,000 for the AIDS Services Foundation of Orange County and the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AmFAR).

At the party, the former principal dancer with the Kirov Ballet was elusive, preferring to sit quietly in a corner with his fellow dancers eating pasta, sushi and chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Not until Tom Kendrick, president of the center, stood up to toast the shy dancer did Baryshnikov offer a few words, thanking the crowd on behalf of his fellow dancers and their "physiotherapists"--a joke that played well with a crowd that had just been mesmerized by the dancers' physically demanding performance.

"All he has to do is step on stage--his presence is there," said Janice Johnson. She and her husband, Roger, served as event chairmen.

Cindy Boragno, chairwoman of the upcoming Center of Fashion show Oct. 1 at the arts center, nearly bumped into the dancer in the crowded quarters.

"He's as tall as I am with my four-inch heels," said Boragno, who in her high heels measures about 5-feet-2. "He's sooooo cute," she said, echoing the sentiments of many women at the benefit.

The eight members of the White Oak Dance Project have been performing modern dance works around the country; they rehearse at the White Oak Plantation, a 7,500-acre wildlife preserve on the Florida-Georgia border.

"Modern dance acknowledges weight and reality rather than trying to defy gravity," said Rob Besserer, one of the dancers. "It's about the real body moving through space."

Many party-goers were still talking about the surprise appearance at the show of another, different kind of dancer--Michael Jackson. Jackson watched the performance from about 10 rows back from the stage wearing what looked like a black fedora and a "black- and red-sequined number," according to party-goer Caroline Walsh.

"I saw someone walking up with a hat box (before the show) and figured somebody important must be here," Walsh said.

Post-performance soirees are key to the performing arts center's success, according to Tom Tomlinson, the center's executive director.

"Parties are an important part of any facility, but especially here in a building that's privately supported" and relies on patrons' donations, Tomlinson said.

Kendrick reminded the crowd that the party served a serious purpose.

"There is no greater cause than eliminating the swath of pain and suffering that AIDS has created," he said.

For the Irvine-based AIDS Services Foundation, the party proved a welcome boost, not just because of the funds raised but because of the publicity.

"The legitimacy of this event will help enormously," said Al Roberts, board president of the foundation. "This has made (the AIDS cause) in Orange County more socially acceptable."

ASF provides housing, food, transportation, in-home nursing care and other services for adults diagnosed as having AIDS and children who test positive for HIV.

Among those attending the benefit were Herve Martin, vice president of Cartier, which helped stage the event; Dr. Merv Silverman, president of AmFAR; Priscilla Munro, executive director of ASF; dancers Nancy Colahan, John Gardner, Kate Johnson, Marianne Moore and Kevin O'Day; Richard and Jolene Engel, Roger and Candice Schnapp, Henry and Renee Segerstrom and Kathryn Thompson.

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