Remembering Michael Jackson in Orange County

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As Michael Jackson's death was confirmed, my thoughts turned to the one and only time I ever saw the "King of Pop," right here in Orange County. He wasn't on stage solo or with the Jacksons (Five or otherwise), nor was he attending the opening of Captain EO at Disneyland. He was just out for a night of ballet in Costa Mesa.

Actually, his entrance into the Performing Arts Center's Segerstrom Hall threatened to overshadow legendary dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov's first appearance on an Orange County stage on Aug. 5, 1993. All the blue, dyed-black and assorted other hairs turned their heads to face Jackson, in his usual royal coat with shoulder epaulets, as he slowly moved to a seat near the orchestra, just to the left of the middle of the stage. He had a blonde on one side and a middle-aged man on the other. It was later revealed they were his dermatologist and nurse--and years later the same nurse would bear one of his children.

The commotion lasted for a few minutes before the lights dimmed and the performance began. Baryshnikov, the former Kirov Ballet principal dancer and ex-artistic director of American Ballet Theatre, owned the crowd's attention thereafter. Making his local debut as a modern dancer with the White Oak Dance Project, a collaborative venture Baryshnikov formed in 1990 with choreographer Mark Morris, the then-45-year-old with taped knees gamely danced two solos: Morris' "Three Preludes" (to music by Gershwin) and Twyla Tharp's "Pergolesi." He also joined other members of his troupe for Morris' "Mosaic and United" (music by Henry Cowell).

The audience ate it up. So did Jackson, or at least he appeared to be enjoying it from what I and everyone else could make out in the dark. He stood with the rest of us for the standing O. Then he was gone. I believe he returned to OCPAC again with Elizabeth Taylor for a function that raised money to battle AIDS/HIV, or at least that's my memory. I didn't snag a free press invite to that one, like I had for the White Oak.


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