Friday, September 28, 2018

New York Evening Hours by Lieba Nesis

New York City Ballet Fall Gala

The room
All photos Lieba Nesis
Click images for full-size views

The New York City Ballet (NYCB) held its annual fall gala on Thursday, September 27, 2018, with cocktails beginning at 5:30 PM at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. I was excitedly anticipating this annual extravaganza where choreography and couture are joined for one night only. I was hoping this would be a welcome respite from all the #MeToo news; a place where I could relax and enjoy the movements of sinewy dancers - no such luck. The ballet began with principal dancer Teresa Reichlen, joined by the entire Company, speaking about the high and uncompromising moral standards that the NYCB holds its dancers to and how they seek to be role models for the public. The audience responded with rapturous applause.

Sarah Jessica Parker & Andy Cohen

NYCB has come under fire as its creative director Peter Martins, and its principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro were forced to retire after being accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. Being that this is its major fundraising event of the year, alleviating the fears of potential donors must have been at the forefront of the Company's mind in preparing this speech.

The Fendi family - Fe and Alessandro Fendi and daughter

This event is not for the faint of wallet with tickets starting at $2,500 sold out weeks in advance.  Despite the drama or perhaps because of it, there was a palpable excitement in the room as attendees came out to support the remaining dancers and bolster a company struggling to regain its footing. The list of socialites and philanthropists was outstanding including Fe and Alessandro Fendi, Ann Van Ness, Patricia Shah, Jean and Martin Shafiroff, Nina Griscom, Sheila Grant, Mary Elizabeth Snow, and hundreds of others.

Kelly Ripa and Zanna Rassi

Unfortunately, there were also some noteworthy absences including designer Valentino Garavani and his entourage, David and Julia Koch, and the Lauders.  Moreover, I have noticed a steep decline in celebrity attendance at many New York society events. Whereas in the old days five or ten prominent luminaries would attend, tonight there were only regulars Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Kelly Ripa, and Andy Cohen. Rihanna even had a difficult time getting her celebrity friends to attend the "Diamond Ball" this year as more celebrities are choosing to either stay home or attend events for which they are paid or are near and dear to their heart.  The ballet itself was surprisingly austere with bare sets, sparse music and pared down costumes despite the utilization of famed designers Gareth Pugh, Alberta Ferretti, and Giles Deacon.

Gareth Pugh and Carson McColl

Before the dancing began, we were shown a film on how Pugh brought his dark vision to the art form, Ferretti brought her expertise in fit and design, and Deacon went for a more bold look. Whereas, other years Valentino and Oscar de la Renta wowed the crowd with their opulent and impractical gowns, this year the dancers' needs were the paramount concern of the three designers.

Lisa Rinehart, Katie Currie, Joaquin De Luz, and Mikhail Baryshnikov

The first act premiered "The Exchange" a dance choreographed by Matthew Neenan with costumes by Gareth Pugh. Pugh said dressing the dancers was a breeze as he has designed costumes for the ballet and opera in Paris and London and stuck to a "brutalist" and "stripped back" look. Pugh acknowledged that he has attended the Costume Institute Gala in year's past but said he mostly tries to remove himself from dressing or attending celebrity-heavy events (although he was heading to Atlantic City for the weekend to help style, Christina Aguilera).

Tyler Gardella and dancer Alec Knight both wearing D Squared

Pugh's costumes in red and black with men wearing black cut-out garments with slitted pants and woman in red dresses allowed principals Maria Kowroski, Tiler Peck, Joseph Gordon, and Adrian Waring to move freely. The next act entitled "Judah" was executed perfectly by dancers Harrison Ball, Lauren Lovette and Sara Adams with costumes by Alberta Ferretti, the only designer who was a no-show for the evening.

Sheila Grant and Nina Griscom

19-year-old choreographer Gianna Reisen said working with Ferretti on the costumes was a treat since Ferretti knew how to design simple and flattering attire. Although she never personally met Ferretti, who is based in Milan, they continually exchanged emails until the desired result was achieved. This is the second ballet Reisen has choreographed, and she put it together in three weeks - a remarkable achievement for this ingenue. The costumes in green, red, yellow and white were fresh and fun: the placement of dancers bodies on some of the attire added a creative touch to the designs.

Tommy Dunn, Tiler Peck, and Jan Raymond

The last act, in a ballet with no intermissions, featured the world premiere of "The Runaway"; this was the only surprise of the evening, and I am still moderately shocked. The ballet took a big gamble in its' attempt to inject a bit of fun, whimsy and pop culture into an art form that has been waning in popularity. The music which was predominantly from Kanye West also featured Jay-Z, James Blake, and Nico Muhly. Taylor Stanley opened up with a sexy performance that had the audience chuckling with delight as he held back bending positions that were mind-blowing.

Jean Shafiroff and Victor dE Souza

The black and white costumes by Giles Deacon were expertly crafted and artfully designed. The black wigs and headpieces made it hard to identify the dancers and yet who cares-the only thing we needed to see were their feet and bodies. Undoubtedly, ballet purists in the audience were unhappy as they were bombarded with Kanye West rap tunes at a major cultural event. Moreover, the dancers were hardly adept at hip-hop; while fun to watch, the results were less than extraordinary. Nonetheless, without this last piece, the ballet's monotony would have been glaring-kudos to NYCB for trying something new that they will hopefully perfect.

Peter de Florio and Ashley Bouder

As guests headed to the second floor for dinner and dancing, Sarah Jessica Parker gave a speech heralding the dancers for their commitment to excellence and thanking attendees for sticking with NYCB "in sickness or health." Kathy Brown, the director, announced this year's gala had raised a healthy $2.3 million. Following dinner, guests danced enthusiastically to DJ Chelsea Leyland who repeats the same catchy tunes each year.

Michele Herbert, Patricia Shah, Antonio Saracino, and Ann Van Ness

The evening also celebrated dancer Joaquin De Luz who was ending his career after 15 years of dazzling audiences with his jumps and pirouettes. For much of the evening, De Luz was deep in conversation with Baryshnikov, a ballet giant who has mastered "the art of retirement."




- Lieba Nesis

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