Friday, May 09, 2014

The New York City Ballet Spring Gala

Celebrating 50 Years At Lincoln Center 

All photos Lieba Nesis
(Click on images for larger views)

The New York City Ballet held its annual spring gala this year to celebrate its 50 year residence at Lincoln Center.  The evening started at 5:30 PM with cocktails on the 2nd floor and an overflowing crowd.  There were socialites such as Fe Fendi, Jamee Gregory, Jean Shafiroff and Prince Dimitri; designers including Valentino, B Michael and Gilles Mendel; entertainers Kristen Bell and Alicia Keys, and of course billionaires David Koch, Leonard Lauder and some Rockefellers mulling around. The dress code of the night was black & white with many women wearing designers such as Oscar de la Renta, Reem Acra, Zuhair Murad, and Roberto Cavalli. The gowns and jewels were breathtaking with it readily apparent that the women took the time and thought to put their looks together.

Dancers from the New York City Ballet

The performance began with the orchestra playing the national anthem followed by a short film showing the history of the David Koch theater and the detail of its construction.  The edifice, which was designed by famed architect Philip Johnson in 1964, is reputed to be the world's first theater designed to fulfill the dreams of its choreographer George Balanchine.  It was noted that the theater was built to accommodate two pivotal elements in a performance: the gratification taken in movement through space, and the joy in being part of an enthusiastic crowd.

Peter Martins

Peter Martins, the artistic director of the New York City Ballet, then came out to introduce and pay tribute to dance old timers Jacque D' Amboise, Patricia McBride, Allegra Kent, Arthur Mitchell and many more. The ballet then opened with a moving performance of the song "If I Loved You" by the actress Kristen Bell and the singer Aaron Lazar.  Finally, at about 7:30 PM it was time for the ballet to begin.

James Lipton and Kedakai

The guests were ballet enthusiasts including James Lipton, the head of the actor's studio for the past 20 years, who said that he studied ballet for many years and similar to acting it involves both "performance and presentation." Lipton correctly acknowledged that the ballet is a "disciplined discipline" and said that when he began 20 years ago to teach actors how to act he brought them to the Alvin Ailey studio to learn from the dancers. Lipton enjoys every actor for their unique portrayal of a character and when asked about fashion he readily admitted that he is completely "ignorant" and referred me to his wife who is a former model and Parsons graduate.

Michele Herbert in Zuhair Murad

Speaking of fashion, the dancers in the first act wore simple pastels of peach and light green with thin unembellished skirts lending a simplicity to their movements, yet disappointing those who enjoy the pomp often associated with ballet galas - myself included. The dancing was romantic and subtle and enthusiastically embraced by the audience.

Lucia Hwong Gordon and David Koch

The second act which was choreographed by Justin Peck, a young dancer and newly acclaimed choreographer, was highly original with dancers in larger groups instead of the traditional one on one and men partnering with other men, another unique element.   Janie Taylor who designed the costumes for the second ballet, and is a recently retired dancer, presented attire in the spirit of Balanchine who staged "leotard ballets" without any elaborate apparel. The black & white striped leotards with red belts, white tights and white pointe shoes lent the dance a very nautical, pared down feel allowing the focus to shift exclusively to the dancers' feet and movements.

Valentino Garavani

Valentino, regal in a red lapel custom made tuxedo, said he loved the costumes in the last act because of their modernity and simplicity which shifted the focus to the talent of the dancers. However, I found myself longing for the costumes that Valentino designed in 2012 which were lavish and exciting, yet highly impractical due to the enormity of the skirts. The audience's overwhelming response was indicative that I was in the minority and most appreciated the pureness of the ballet form and the originality of both the choreography and costumes at this event.

Fe Fendi and Jamee Gregory in Oscar de la Renta

The conclusion of the ballet had the colossal crowd heading to the dinner where photographers waited patiently to get images of the surrounding luminaries. The chair of the ballet announced that this was the most successful gala ever, raising over 3.1 million dollars. Peter Martins, in a sequined tie, then got up to thank David and Julia Koch who he said have given a "new life" to the ballet and the theater which would not be around without their largesse.

Dancer Ashley Bouder in B Michael dress and B Michael

The lavishness of this event coupled with the stature of the audience make this one of the highlight evenings in any socialite's busy calendar. Moreover, ballet in itself is a vital cultural institution, worthy of preservation and deserving of attention.

- Lieba Nesis

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