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CENTER OF ATTENTION: A Decade at the O.C. Performing

Lifting the Curtain on Behind-the-Scenes Anecdotes


COSTA MESA — You think pink satin toe shoes--not high tops--when you think of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. But the hall boasts a backstage hoop that has been on the receiving end of several artists' slam dunks.

"Behind the stage, the stagehands put up a hoop," said the San Francisco Ballet's Justin McMillan. "We discovered it, and we hunted around and found some basketballs, and they let us use it."

This bit of little-known behind-the-scenes lore comes as news even to some staffers.

"What basketball court?" asked Gregory Patterson, the center's spokesman. "I've never seen it. But I don't play basketball, so what do I know?"

The surprising, poignant, humorous and even life-threatening goings-on that center audiences don't know about may well provide as much drama as any act onstage at Segerstrom Hall.

Ilona Hirsch, a Beverly Hills orthopedic surgeon hired by touring troupes, has prescribed allergy pills to a dancer who ate too many strawberries, sewed up a performer's tambourine-slashed forehead and last year prevented a Royal Danish Ballet employee with a nasty red blister from developing blood poisoning.

"You can die from blood poisoning," said Hirsch, who put her patient on antibiotics to save the day. "The company told me they were going to make me an honorary Danish citizen or something."

Quick thinking also saved the Sugar Plum Fairy from peril, recalls Patti Fitzpatrick, the San Francisco Ballet's costume supervisor.

During a "Nutcracker" performance in December, an 8-year-old ensemble performer got nervous, soiling her angel costume and creating "a little puddle," Fitzpatrick said.

But before Sugar Plum, about to make an entrance on the spot, could slip, someone thrust a towel into the hand of another tot, who wiped up the spill under cover of the 5-foot-tall, 9-foot-wide hoop skirt worn by Mother Ginger, played by a dancer on stilts.

"You just sort of get through these things," Fitzpatrick said sagely.

Another ballet story, recounted in a local pub during the usual post-performance "bar report," had stagehands roaring with laughter, said Greg Foreman, who lowers scenery from his perch 35 feet above the stage.

Rudolf Nureyev hadn't exactly endeared himself to the crew when he looked at the half-empty stage before a 1988 performance with Paris Opera Ballet and loudly proclaimed that the set for "Cinderella" would never be erected by curtain time.

The set was put up in time, but stagehands weren't feeling any too generous when Nureyev made a private decision to make one entrance through a different door than the one he usually used and on which technicians had their spotlights trained.

"Well," Foreman said, "a couple of stagehands say, 'Oh, no, you don't,' and they take him by the arms and thrust him out onto the stage from the correct door."

The dancer's cape got caught as the door closed.

"And the next thing you know," Foreman said, "there's this foot coming out from the door kicking his frock loose in full view of the audience. We thought it was hilarious, because, to be a star, you have to be somewhat egocentric, and Nureyev had one of the biggest egos I'd ever encountered. I'm sure he thought he could do no wrong."

Developer Henry T. Segerstrom, whose family gave the land on which the center sits, wasn't in the wings that night, but he's seen plenty that few ticket buyers have espied.

The Cold War was still on, Segerstrom recalled, when Oleg Vinogradov, then artistic director of the Kirov Ballet, donned a 10-gallon hat to show a little East-West detente at a private bash at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dana Point.

"And then he sang 'Tom Dooley,' and did it very well, with kind of a drone."

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