Trying to head to New York in January, I was “stranded” in California for weeks. But complaining would have been silly.
Instead of huddling in my New York apartment, facing mounds of snow and the arctic climate outside, I was hiking in San Francisco, enjoying views of the Pacific and Golden Gate amid temperatures in the 70s. And there was a lot to do!
SAN FRANCISCO BALLET GALA 2011
Since I was in town, I was able to attend one of my favorite events: the opening night of the San Francisco Ballet.
For San Francisco-centric me, it was fun to see old friends and meet some movers and shakers from south of the city, referred to as The Peninsula. Many had taken city hotel rooms to dress and spend the night, even though it’s only a half an hour drive home.
Earlier in the day, it seemed that half the Bay Area had crowded into Alex Chases’ salon, getting ready for the big night. Alex last year opened a branch at Rosewood’s Sand Hill hotel in Menlo Palo, convenient for his Silicon Valley clientele.
I ran into the Ballet’s Associate Trustee Erin Glenn, who told me about the new “Allegro Circle,” which requires a minimum donation of $5,000. The Ballet Company hopes to attract members from the well-established younger set.
A group of young mothers from the Peninsula was also there. They had left their husbands home to babysit and organized a “girls’ night out” to dress up, kick up their heels, and celebrate the ballet.
The gods smiled on this Gala—unlike the past two years, the skies were clear and the weather so warm we didn’t need wraps.
The sold-out event attracted more than 1,050 for the dinner plus another 3,000 at the ballet. Was it the reviving economy or the excitement generated by the film Black Swan that sparked the large turnout, wondered Marybeth La Motte, founder of Red Carpet Bay Area.
Whichever it was, kudos to Chair Rada Brooks and dinner chair Marie Hurabiell Trader for raising over $1 million, the second highest amount ever.
The excitement was almost palpable in the Beaux Arts City Hall rotunda, where the evening traditionally begins. Event Designer J. Riccardo Benavides of Ideas and Décor Chair Kathy Huber had visited Paris last spring searching for inspiration and vision—and they certainly got it!
Everyone raved about how the transformed City Hill reflected the glory of the Belle Époque, which was the evening’s theme. “I love how you took care of my staircase,” said Protocol Chief Charlotte Maillard to the designer. It had been covered with carpet in lavender instead of the traditional red.
The color palette ranged from pale to deep purple. Under lavender lights, topiary lined the mezzanine balconies. Urns were filled with lilac, hydrangeas, and roses in the most luscious shades of lavender and silver.
Over cocktails, Carl Pascarella (former president of Visa) told me that he’d end the evening by flying to New York. Another storm was brewing, but I realized his flight wouldn’t be cancelled: he was flying privately.
Trumpets called guests to dinner, by Paula LeDuc Fine Catering. The courses included salads of Dungeness crab (a local specialty), fillet of beef, and pistachio cheesecake, accompanied by William Hill Estate wines.
I was seated between ballet masters Bruce Samson, recently of the London Royal Ballet, and Betsy Erickson, accompanied by her husband Jeff Nemy.
Conversation turned to the Academy-Award nominated film Black Swan which Bruce described approvingly as “A piece of theatre, a horror film. Natalie Portman is so ultimately vulnerable.”
Betsy preferred Mao’s Last Dance, based on the life of Li Cunxin, who became an internationally acclaimed principal dancer at the Houston Ballet. Betsy worked with Li, whom she recalled as “an elegant dancer and a gentleman.”
The Gala selections are always chosen to highlight the company’s artistic and technical skills. The ten in the repertoire included two world premieres: Talk to Her, composed by Alberto Iglesias and choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, and Double Stop, composed by Philip Glass and choreographed by Val Caniparoli.
There were also two company premieres, Ravel’s Somewhere in Time and Don Quixote. Choreographed by Edward Liang, the Ravel featured Damien Smith and Yuan Yuan Tan, whose parents came from Shanghai for the occasion.
In Don Quixote, Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro won the biggest applause, especially from the young ballet students in the balcony.
The traditional after-party at City Hall, transformed into the “Moulin Rouge” for the occasion, attracted the energetic set. Though I had planned to step in for a moment, I stayed on, entranced by watching the young ballet corps members on the dance floor.
Stoked with plenty of food to sustain their energy, many partied on until security gently nudged us all out the door after 1 a.m.
Karen Caldwell, the successful new fashion designer, drove home to Napa after the performance, as she had to get her children off to school the next morning. “It’s not a bad drive (1 hour 15 minutes) as I play vintage Madonna and Dave Brubeck on the drive home,” she said.
I hope to be in town in March for the premier of Balanchine’s Coppélia that Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson danced in almost 40 years ago. It’s getting a lot of buzz.
Photographs by Erik Tomasson, Jeanne Lawrence, and Drew Altizer.
*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.