Elizabeth! OC arts patron honors exiled Russian ballet dancers in Segerstrom gala


Reunited in Dance,” was a gala so glorious, so glamorous, so grand that it would normally take a village to produce. But perhaps you haven’t met Elizabeth Segerstrom. A Polish-born, Russian-speaking dynamo who holds a doctoral degree in psychology, she is an accomplished entrepreneur and published author. Elizabeth (everyone calls her that) threw a ballet party and invited the town. It came off swimmingly.

Alarmed by the dance world despair and chaos she was sensing, and hearing about, Ms. Segerstrom did so much more than cut a check. She created an outlet to perform for 18 racehorse ballet dancers–top dogs, all exiles from Russian-based dance companies, whether the Bolshoi, Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky, or Stanislavsky Theatre. Fashioning a program of warhorse greatest hits interspersed with select contemporary ones, Ms. Segerstrom did all the groundwork of staging “Reunited in Dance,” right down to commissioning marvelous animated backdrops to transform the concert-hall setting.

In the above photo, she is surrounded by her gathered troupe of ‘ballet nomads’; whether indigenous or expatriates, each led a career interrupted by the chaos brought on by the war in Ukraine. Some are in costume, others in their funny warm-up clothes. But for a stretch on Saturday night, they brought their art, and their pedagogy, to a stage of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

It all took place, not in Segerstrom Hall, which is The Center’s standard-bearer for dance presentation, rather, it was in the neighboring, somewhat more glittering Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, which, on occasion, but not often, presents dance. In a nice community gesture, the program was live-streamed onto a huge screen set up in the Plaza outside the theater, as the fully sold-out program could not accommodate all. But before we describe the program, hey, what about that party?

Prior to the performance, on the ramps, staircases, and balcony of the Concert Hall lobby, Ms. Segerstrom entertained a who-is-who of invited guests, a list that felicitously included members of the press. The bold, brassy, and fun-loving OC social-whirrr was in high gear. It was on view in the fresh flowers bedecking the arrival walkway; it bubbled up in flutes of champagne; it was buried beneath mounds of caviar in tubs so enormous they were surely wheeled in. Russian caviar! On teensy blini! With enough sour cream to harden your arteries on sight. Steak-ragout! Risotto! Red wine! And chocolate bon-bons to get you through the weekend.

Thus fortified, the audience filed into the hall for the world premiere of director Xander Parish’s ballet classroom handbook, The Ballet Class, impeccably delivered by a cast of twelve. From plies and tendus to just about everything, both at barre and at center, the ‘ballet ABC’s work aptly displayed the dance prowess that would be put to good use later in the program. One felt pleasure in the room at seeing the dancers go through their training paces; alas, the work went on too long.

The next stop of interest was Christopher Wheeldon’s much-trod After the Rain duet, in a careful and tender performance by Andrea Lassakaova and Adrian Black Mitchell, who not only seemed to understand their choreography, they actually owned it, and were present for each other in the nicest unforced manner.

vsevolod maevsky, boris zhurilov and alexis tutunnique in raymonda

Want ballet classics? We had The Dying Swan, the Nutcracker, Swan Lake (the White Swan pas de deux sumptuously danced by ABT Principal Dancer Christine Schevchenko), and that whole shebang was topped up by the pas de deux from Le Corsaire in which Jacopo Tisi did this:

jacopo tissi, le corsaire

The evening was very grand, as mentioned, but it was also very human and touching. The performance opened with a montage of video testimonies about the trauma and dislocation the dancers have undergone, having uprooted from their homes, and their daily, dependable routines, which is something that dancers need. We have published the words of Jacopo Tissi, whose marvelous leap is in the above photo. Read his story here.

The dancers were troupers. Uplifted by the opportunity to perform, if not a tad out-of-joint having been dormant for months and months, they bent over backward (well, sometimes that was in the choreography) to honor the audience, their art form, Mother Russia in her better days, but mostly, Elizabeth Segerstom, whose enthralling vision it was to stage this one-night-only extravaganza.

The performance had artistic direction by British dancer Xander Parish, former principal dancer at the Mariinsky Ballet. Ms. Segerstrom’ executed her passion project in collaboration with the Henry T. and Elizabeth Segerstrom Foundation in association with the Center.

an honor to be photographed with elizabeth segerstrom

Leave a Reply