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Photo by Jay Reilly

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The Art of Living

By Wendy Bowman, Anna Dunn, Riley Greenough and Allison Mitchell

Photography by Gregg Delman, Cameron Gardner, Reagan Poltrock and Jay Reilly

11.26.18

From award-winning actors and dancers to renowned maestros and artists to altruists with a vision to make the future bright, Orange County is brimming with creatives full of art and soul.

THE COLLABORATOR
Ali Sabet

Iranian-American artist Ali Sabet, based in Irvine, gives a multilayered response when asked about his painting technique. “I’ve always seen myself as a visual translator of energy, values and universal concepts,” he says. Sabet began his career at a top ad agency in 1998 and a year later created his own, Sabet Brands, converging his two passions, branding and art. “There are times when my branding clients become collectors of my fine art,” he shares. “Other times, I get asked to include my fine art in my branding work by my clients.” While he left his native Tehran at the age of 10, Sabet is still influenced by his upbringing. “I listen to Iranian music when I work,” he reveals. Sabet has also collaborated with Montblanc, BMW and John Varvatos through serendipitous connections. “I never set out to work with any of these brands, and yet every single one, I have loved since I was a kid,” he shares. “I have multiple memories of Montblanc and how it was introduced to me by my father.”

THE BREAKOUT STAR
Lindsay Mendez

She’s sung, danced and acted her way onto the Broadway stage, where she’s played outspoken Elphaba in the 10th anniversary production of Wicked and bubbly Jan in Grease. But it’s her most recent role that has the theater world—and the Tony Awards—all abuzz. “Carousel is one of the greatest shows ever written in the Broadway canon,” says the Orange County School of the Arts alum, who took home the 2018 Tony Award for best featured actress in a musical for her role as Carrie Pipperidge. “Carrie is so fun-loving and always says exactly what she is thinking. I loved that about her. That, and her Maine accent. It was a huge challenge and so rewarding to harness it.” Mendez’s older sister sparked her love for the stage, as she was growing up in Southern California. “I went to see her in a production of Annie, and I was hooked,” Mendez recalls. Up next, the star will take her vocal chops to NYC’s Feinstein’s/54 Below for a debut concert revue before hitting the road to share her favorite Broadway and nostalgic tunes. “It’s nice to take this opportunity after Carousel to spread my wings and try some new things.”

THE ADVOCATES
Charlie & Ling Zhang

What do you get when you cross a child who garnered a love for the clarinet while toiling in the rice paddy fields of rural China with the eventual millionaire founder of the Pick Up Stix empire as well as beverage and real estate development companies? Charlie Zhang, who, with his wife, Ling, renovated a 35,000-square-foot Irvine office building to the tune of $10 million and in April 2017 opened the nonprofit Orange County Music & Dance performing arts school (also home to the Pacific Symphony). Think music and rehearsal rooms, dance studios, a recording studio and a 120-seat black-box theater, where children can reach their aspirations free of charge. “Both of us have always wanted to help the younger generation to achieve their talents and dreams,” says Charlie, who with Ling received the prestigious Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award at the annual OC Arts Awards in mid-October. “Since we are blessed with our financial success, we have a strong desire to give back to the community. After all, it just feels good.”

Photo by Reagan Poltrock

THE INGÉNUE
Hannahlei Cabanilla

Winning season 15 of Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance is more than enough for Anaheim Hills native Hannahlei Cabanilla to dance about, as she became the first Filipino-American contestant to pirouette away with the $250,000 grand prize. And on the heels of wrapping up the So You Think You Can Dance national tour, the 18-year-old will take the stage at Segerstrom Center for the Arts Dec. 2. “Being onstage is my home; it’s where I am the happiest,” shares Cabanilla. “Orange County is filled with amazing dancers and studios, so growing up, I felt like I was really welcomed as a dancer.” Before Cabanilla begins her first semester at UC Irvine next fall—as a dance major, of course—the up-and-coming star will be back on the small screen, this time joining the cast of Fox’s Rent: Live musical alongside some of Broadway’s finest. “Since winning SYTYCD, I’ve started to notice the impact my dancing can have on other people’s lives,” shares Cabanilla. “That inspires me to keep growing as a dancer, artist and person.”

 THE FORWARD THINKER
Todd Smith

As director and CEO of the Orange County Museum of Art, Todd Smith previously led an under-the-radar space in Newport Beach that has presented the work of some of SoCal’s and the Pacific Rim’s most thought-provoking modern artists during its 41-year history. Now, while overseeing a temporary gallery space at South Coast Plaza Village (OCMAEXPAND-SANTA ANA), he’s deep in the throes of working with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne of Morphosis to design and build a new home for the avant-garde museum at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Among the showstopping elements of the 52,000-square-foot, three-story attraction slated to open in 2021? “The rooftop terrace will be a powerful, exciting space that can be used for events and performances,” says Mayne. “By almost doubling our exhibition space, we will be able to showcase our world-renowned collection of postwar California art in addition to international exhibitions. There will be nothing like it in O.C.”

Photo by Cameron Gardner

 THE DOYENNE
Elizabeth Turk

For award-winning sculpturist Elizabeth Turk, beauty is found in the paradox of the weight of the marble with which she works and the ability she has to carve it into floating pieces that defy gravity. “Marble holds a history that is larger than myself,” shares Turk, who won a coveted MacArthur Fellowship in 2010 and splits her time between her Santa Ana studio and NYC. “For instance, after removing 99 percent of the marble, ‘emptiness’ becomes filled with weight.” With a deft hand, Turk whittles massive 400-pound slabs of Sivec and Carrara marble into thought-provoking pieces, reminiscent of skeletal silhouettes, that bring together both nature and the human form. In early November, the Laguna Art Museum tapped the visionary for its annual Shoreline Project, where 1,000 dancers came together in movement with LED umbrellas depicting Turk’s eye-catching work from her X-Ray Mandalas series. “The Shoreline Project is about community,” she shares. “It is a platform where we can share joy... and cross boundaries.”

THE MAESTRO
Dennis Kim

September marked the start of a new season for Pacific Symphony—its 40th—and ushered in a new era with Dennis Kim as concertmaster. This is not unfamiliar territory for Kim, who at 22 years old held the same title at Tucson Symphony Orchestra. He then served as the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra before leading the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra in Finland. “What an honor it is to lead this orchestra, with its incredible repertoire and amazing guest artists joining us in Segerstrom,” says the Korean-born Kim of his new role. “I am excited to be involved in every part of the orchestra, from coaching our youth orchestra to the chamber music series to community outreach.” Kim was drawn to music director Carl St.Clair’s “passion, energy and charisma,” he shares. “An organization willing to take risks, and artistic integrity being the most important for all involved, is the reason I am here in Southern California.”