Monday, May 4, 2015

Washington Social Diary: A Pretty Distraction

Ballerinas from THEARC float down the German Embassy's steep stairs to a stage to perform a bit of "Swan Lake."
by Carol Joynt

The Washington Ballet has a way, year after year, of making their big annual fundraiser memorable, and they did it again this year with the “Swan Ball.” It stood out for the usual reason, a stunning social event, but also another that obviously was unexpected -- it was a pretty distraction to cap a week that badly needed one.

Baltimore is too close and too important to Washington for residents of this city to put that city out of mind. It was impossible to ignore seven days of sometimes violent and fiery street protests over the death of Freddie Gray. Friday, the day of the ball, was also the day Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby dramatically took center stage to announce a range of murder and manslaughter charges against the six police officers involved in Gray’s April 12 arrest and the injuries that killed him.
Dress rehearsal for the servers from Susan Gage Caterers.
To dress up in black tie and gowns and jewels, to change gears, to put on a "gala face," can feel awkward and inappropriate. So, again, the guests, and the party overall, were uplifted by the pretty setting at the German Ambassador's residence.

Pretty as can be, one of the ballerinas posed throughout the German Ambassador's residence.
Also, the money raised goes to education and community projects, including DanceDC in the public schools, and THEARC in Anacostia.

The pretty mood was set at the front door by a flock of wistful ballerinas, and just inside the doors were servers with flutes of Champagne on silver trays, and beyond them, a terrace with rows of King’s tables adorned with virtual gardens of peonies and roses, against a backdrop of the building’s spectacular hilltop view of the city.

This was a party that required dry, clear weather, and that’s what it got, allowing for guests to descend steep steps to the lower garden. The steps can be treacherous, which is why there were young men standing by to offer an arm for the descent and ascent. Along the way were baskets of colorful pashminas to warm bare shoulders in the evening’s slight chill.

A stage at the bottom, across from a long shallow pond, was the setting for speeches and a performance of the pas des deux from “Swan Lake” by dancers Maki Onuki and Miguel Anaya, followed by “Cygnets Variations” from adorable young dancers from THEARC. I should point out that these agile dancers swept down the stairs as if on wings.
Washington Ballet dancers greeted guests as they arrived at the Swan Ball.
The tables, arranged as King's tables, were gardens of peonies and roses.
The view from the tables down the first tier of steps, toward another, and the lower garden.
A “feathered friend” theme prevailed, whether it was on the back tattoo of a guest, the “Cream Puff Swan” planned for dessert, or the pigeons in cages that hung from trees. (As the housemate of a parrot who lives free, though, I wanted to unlock the cages and let them go into the night).  

Our hosts, German Ambassador Peter Wittig, and his wife, Huberta von Voss-Wittig, were the honorary chairs. She is also the newest member of the Washington Ballet board, as was announced by its chair, Sylvia de Leon. The ball chair was Sachiko Kuno, who is extraordinary in her commitment to the arts in Washington. De Leon said the gala, with 400 guests, was “our most financially successful ever.” The ticket prices started at $1,200 for an individual, and on up to $10,000 for patron, $25,000 for a benefactor, and $50,000 for a grand benefactor. The highest levels came with seats and perks.
There were baskets of pashminas to warm bare shoulders.
Darren Thomas, pretty in pink, takes the stairs carefully.
The weather was in the Swan Ball's favor — clear and dry, if a slight chill. 
Shane Harris and Rosemary Bowes.
The pretty lawn at the German Ambassador's.
The German Ambassador’s residence, while architecturally compelling, can be a logistical challenge for big soirees. The terrace, where dinner was served, is narrow, especially when packed with rows of tables seating so many. The servers from Susan Gage Caterers earlier rehearsed how to navigate, but even with that they had to inch their way between the backs of chairs. If just one guest stood up in an aisle – routine at a table-hopping dinner party -- it was comparable to blocking the cocktail cart on a 737. With the steep hillside at the edge of the terrace, watching where one walked mattered, too.

When the servers got to the tables they delivered a delicious Spring Salad of burrata with roasted heirloom carrots, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, baby greens and edible flowers. The main course was Coulotte Steak with creamy Dijon demi-glace, potato puree, green and white asparagus.
The stairs after sunset, as guests headed to the lower garden for some "Swan Lake."
A caged pigeon takes in the pas de deux from "Swan Lake."
And a few minutes later.
Young dancers from THEARC.
Putting a pashmina to use while watching some ballet al fresco.
Seated as a pod at our section of one long table was Michael Pillsbury, his wife, Susan Pillsbury, who were among the Ball’s patrons, and Bruce Ross-Larson, Shelly Ross-Larson, Shane Harris, Teri Galvez, Kevin Chaffee and Tony Powell. To our left was Washington Ballet artistic director Septime Webre, the evening’s ringmaster. To the right was David Levy, former head of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Reginald Van Lee, a Ball benefactor.

Nearby were Celia and Eric Zeibold. Eric, one of the city’s most acclaimed chefs, is at the moment between restaurants, having left CityZen so he and Celia could open their own place. Earlier in the week he prepared the State Department luncheon for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was on an official visit to Washington.
Inside the German Ambassador's home, just off the main entrance hall.
back inside: Eric and Celia Zeibold.
Almost dinner time.
Talk at our table included the contrast between the glitzy evening and what had been playing out in Baltimore, and whether it could happen in Washington, and Shane, who is the national security correspondent for The Daily Beast, and Michael, who is an adviser at the Pentagon, discussed drones and cyber warfare. Because Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was close enough we could see the top of his head, we also talked about the court’s just-completed arguments on same sex marriage, with a decision expected in June. In other words, typical Washington dinner conversation.

Toasts were made and in particular to Ambassador Wittig’s mother, Monica Von Voss, who was celebrating her birthday. All 400 guests sang “Happy Birthday” to her.

Soon it was back to the home’s entrance hall, which had been converted into a dance party – for both the professionals and a crowd of enthusiastic amateurs, and the men danced with women, the women danced with women, and the men danced with men, and everybody got along.
A feathered friends theme prevailed ...
Tony Powell, left, and Susan Pillsbury, right, give each other the look.
Susan Pillsbury leans in.
Teri Galvez and Michael Pillsbury.
On the guest list for the Swan Ball were Kay Kendall and Jack Davies, Reggie Van Lee, Mark Cipullo, Dana Warner, Chris Addison and Sylvia Ripley, David Bennett, Todd and Jessica Boulanger, Marvin Bowser and Mike Yates, Matt and Ashley Bronczek, Jane Rosenthall Cafritz, Travis Brown and Teresa Berger, Rosemary Bowes, John and Kristin Cecchi, Michael Cleary, David Cooper, Connie Carter and Gordon Dale, Lynn Coleman, Olivia Demetriou, Aurora Dickie and Jonathan Ericksen, Kevin and Lis Driscoll, Bill Eggers, Ryan Hayes, Steve Ferguson,  Raul and Jean-Marie Fernandez, Irma and Richard Frank, Mary and Robert Haft, Kee Juan Han, William Harwood, Reza and Fariba Jahanbani, Marvin and Lisa Jawer, Rod Carrasco and Angel Newsom-Carrasco, Richard and Kathy Katz, Michelle Kosinski and Kimbell Duncan, Fabian Koss, Sandra Pandit, Stephen and Linda Willard, Corey Landolt and David Grobard, Lorie Peters Lauthier and Peter Pappas, Justin and Stephanie Lilley, Bill and Eve Lilly, Bruce Lipnick.
An entrance hall turned into a dance floor.
And more guests: Charlotte Weir and Ann Luskey, David and Carrie Marriott, Mark and Lyn McFadden, Stacey Miller and Cindy Chambers, Holly Muldoon, Lee and Julie Folger, Faya Causey and Whitney Rosenthal, Peter Neville, Sarah Nixon, James and Dibbie Oldham, Bill and Pilar O’Leary, Rachel Pearson, Gian Carlo Perez, Claire Rathbun, John Arundel, David and Catherine Rochester, Morgann Rose, Reem Sadik, Paul Ashe, Victor Shargai and Craig Pascal, Thomas and Maggie Sheedy, Eileen Shields-West, George and Frederica Valanos, David and Jennifer Whipp, Maximillian Wittig, Valeska Wittig, Augustin Wittig, Pei Shan Xie, Jimmy and Isabelle Yeh, Samara Yudof,  Trinidad Zaldivar.
After dinner, everybody danced with everybody, in particular the women with the women.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt