American Ballet Theatre’s Spring Gala Extravaganza 2016

The American Ballet Theatre (ABT) celebrated its 76th year at the Metropolitan Opera House on Monday May 16th for a Spring gala that began at 6:30 PM. Ballet as recounted to me this evening by artistic director of ABT, Kevin McKenzie, “is an expressiveness of an art form, and a primal form of communication,” one of the reasons McKenzie, a former dancer, loves the ballet so ardently.

Former ABT dancer Alina Hernandez and artistic director of ABT Kevin McKenzie

I myself am a former dancer of the Joffrey Ballet and enthusiastically await this “happening” all year. However, this ballet which usually contains vignettes of what we will be viewing during the season, contained longer produced ballets with less elaborate costumes and more intense focus on the male dancers. McKenzie said “he wanted to invite the public to see a whole thing, to put everything in context.” While I enjoyed the snippets he used to provide, enticing me with small bits of creativity so that I showed up a couple of days later to view the dances in their entirety, tonight was a smash success judging by the reaction of the crowd.

left to right Anh Duong in Dolce and Gabbana, writer Amy Fine Collins in Oscar de la Renta, principal dancer James Whiteside, designer Diane Von Furstenberg and editor at Vogue Hamish Bowles

Firstly, there were wall-to-wall stars, socialites, businessmen and artists including: Designer Diane Von Furstenberg, artist Anh Duong, Editor Hamish Bowles, writer Amy Fine Collins, mogul Steve and his wife Christine Schwarzman, philanthropists Jean and Martin Shafiroff

left to right philanthropists and socialites Kalioppe Karella in Chanel, Christine Schwarzman, Joanne De Guardiola in Tom Ford, Muffie Aston and Fe Fendi in Dennis Basso

CEO Charles Phillips, socialites Fe Fendi and Kalliope Karella, Gillian and Sylvester Miniter, Muffie and Sherrell Aston, Susan Fales-Hill, Star Jones, Co-chairs Mary Snow and Sutton Stracke, designer Prabal Gurung, model Garrett Neff, actresses Jennifer Tilly and Nell Diamond, philanthropist Susan Rockefeller, editor of Teen Vogue Amy Astley, and legendary Producer Tommy Tune.

Paul Kanavos, socialite Dayssi Kanavos,  Kalioppe Karella in Chanel, philanthropists Christine and Steve Schwarzman, Joanne de Guardiola in Tom Ford, socialite Muffie Potter & Fe Fendi

I was nearly blinded by all the beautiful jewels and glamour that overtook the Lincoln Center promenade and yet everyone was there to applaud the spectacular dancers and support the arts.  McKenzie informed us that Alessandra Ferri was coming back at the age of 53 to perform in “Requiem” after temporarily retiring in August 2007. Kevin was also excited to introduce a reconstruction of “Sleeping Beauty” and celebrate Artist-in-Residence Alexei Ratmansky who is now in his eighth year at ABT; the centerpiece being a World Premiere set to Leonard Bernstein’s “Serenade after Plato’s Symposium.”

Actress Jennifer Tilly in Dolce and Gabbana, Mary Linda Lamar in Valentino
and co-chair of the Ballet Sutton Stracke wearing Alexis Mabille.

The opening of the Ballet began with “Sylvia” and was choreographed by Frederick Ashton starring 20-year veteran Gillian Murphy and other young, newly minted dancers. Then we were treated to an excerpt of “Sleeping Beauty” choreographed by Marius Petipa with additional choreography by Alexei Ratmansky starring Veronika Part, Hee Seo and Cory Stears dancing the principal roles. These ballets were pleasant and light and followed by “La Fille mal gardee” choreographed by Frederick Ashton and containing some ribbons and a romantic Pas de deux between Isabella Boylston and Jeffrey Cirio.

Lieba Nesis and Miriam Weiss

The crowd adored the next Act where we treated to the physical prowess and beauty of 53-year-old Italian Alessandra Ferri who danced in Kenneth MacMillan’s “Requiem” (Pie Jesu) with accompaniment by Soprano Ying Fang and conductor David LaMarche. However, the absolute stunner of the evening was the World Premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Serenade after Plato’s Symposium” which contained seven male dancers, several of whom are considered the best in the world.

Principal dancer Marcelo Gomes and former principal dancer Julie Kent

While this ballet is an abstract exploration of some themes that Plato investigated including the topic of love I myself did a lot of “investigating” into the physiques of all these handsome and alluring men on stage. There was Herman Cornejo, Marcelo Gomes, James Whiteside, and Daniil Simkin who dazzled with their larger-than-life moves. The man-on-man partnering was seduction at its best, with Gomes and Simkin bewitching the audience with their gravity defying jumps and turns. Simkin, is one of those dancers who gets better each year with his Chaine’ turns and stupendous jumps bringing down the house.

Anh Duong in Dolce & Gabana and Amy Fine Collins in Oscar de la Renta

This Act was highly unusual for its length and its intense focus on these male stars allowing them to regal the audience with their expertise. Except for the brief appearance of female Devon Teuscher, this premiere screamed “I am man-dancer hear me roar.” The costumes were sparse, the sets scanty and the music thin (just violin soloist Benjamin Bowman), this was all about the art of dance.

Prabal Gurung and famous principal dancer Misty Copeland in Prabal Gurung

After a burst of applause we were treated to a well deserved intermission and then the final act choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky entitled “Firebird.” The fiery red costumes and elaborate scenery were a nice contrast to the plainness of the first act and Misty Copeland, the newly appointed African American principal, quieted her doubters with an outstanding performance that showcased her sinewy body and allowed her to connect emotionally and physically with the enthusiastic audience. “Firebird” first entered the ABT repertory in 1945 with costumes by Marc Chagall and this was a powerful reprise of that ballet with music by Igor Stravinsky and costumes by Galina Solovyeva.

left to right Socialite Dayssi Kanavos, Camilla Ollson, Co-chair of Ballet
Mary Snow in Alexander McQueen, and Von Richthofen

Now it was time for the fun, however I heard guests inquiring as to the location of the after-dinner which is usually held in a tent but tonight was on the Second floor of the David H. Koch Theater-an entirely different building. This was part two to an incredible evening where I was able to converse with Sue Rockefeller, Tommy Tune and Julie Kent. I must say there was a void this year without Julie Kent and Diana Vishneva, who normally wow the audience with their regalness and flexibility. Kent informed me she retired and will now be moving to Washington to become artistic director of the Washington Ballet. Kent loved Misty’s performance saying she mastered a very difficult role and this was even better than her debut.

Jean Shafiroff in Peter Copping, Tommy Tune and ballet board member Anka Palitz

Speaking of masters, Tommy Tune was at the dinner wearing Hugo Boss, a fabulous hairdo and an inaudible voice-due to allergies. This guy has done it all, receiving Ten Tony Awards and the National Medal of Arts and yet few of the attendees recognized him. Tune told me he wanted to be a ballet dancer but was too tall so shifted to Broadway and has produced a number of ballets within the Broadway shows “Oklahoma” “Carousel”, and “King and I.” His favorite Act of the night was the World Premiere of Plato’s Symposium and his pick for best dancers are Baryshnikov and Tiler Peck.

Principal dancer Daniel Siimkin, with the editor of Teen Vogue Amy Astley in Marc Jacobs

A preferred dancer of mine, Daniil Simkin, was there with his girlfriend Julie Granger who says that Daniil’s eight hour dance days frequently leave him in need of a deep massage which she provides. Julie is a fitness model for Wilhelmina and she shone in a silver Valentino gown.

Susan Rockefeller in H & M Conscious collection, and Star Jones in Badgley Mischka

Another best-dressed attendee was Sue Rockefeller who was wearing a dress from H&M’s conscious collection, which uses more organic cotton than any other fashion house-20% to be exact. Sue pointed out that fashion is the second most polluting industry, right behind oil, and while “fast fashion” is not going away we must do all we can to protect our precious environment.

Richard Kielar, Fe Fendi and Christian Zimmermann

Processing all this information was overwhelming with relief provided by the DJ spinning Michael Jackson and Madonna tunes and Christine Schwarzman, Fe Fendi and Kalliope Karella dancing up a storm with the professional ballerinas. This was a perfect conclusion to one of the most exciting events of the social calendar and one of the last big galas before the Hampton festivities begin.

– Lieba Nesis

Lieba Nesis

My love of fashion, writing and photography were something that always dominated my lifestyle however it wasn't until I was approached by the editor of Lookonline that I realized I could utilize these three skills in combination.

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