Friday, October 7, 2016

No ordinary gala benefit

Arriving at the Park Avenue Armory on Wednesday night at 7:25 PM, this is what was before us just inside the Ward Thompson Drill Hall. Photo: DPC.
Friday, October 7, 2016. Sometimes sunny, sometimes not, yesterday in New York. The weatherman said the temperature was in the low to mid-70s but it like it was in a cooler mood, and so too maybe were you.

This past Wednesday night the Park Avenue Armory held its annual gala benefit at the Armory. Now this is no ordinary gala benefit. The Armory itself was built between 1877 and 1881 for the Seventh Regiment. Just a few years earlier in 1871, there were the New York and Harlem railroad  tracks running through the avenue on its destinations north.

It was built during a prosperous time in the growing city and many of the prosperous men chose to build a beautiful armory. The reception rooms were designed by several famous leaders of the American Aesthetic Movement of the time including Stanford White, the Herter Brothers, Louis Comfort Tiffany who had enormous influence in the project, and Candace Wheeler. It was a beauty to behold at the time and a hundred years later it was still a strong and stalwart treasure but basically neglected by changing times and interests.
Slivery blue curtain opens and we see ...
The dancers move aside and the guests walk up onto the stage and down ...
... into the dining area.
Somewhere in the last three decades Ward Thompson and Elihu Rose decided to do something with this magnificent, historical New York building.  I think last night’s gala was its 20th year.  The Armory’s charter is “dedicated to supporting unconventional works in the visual and performing arts that need non-traditional spaces for their full realization, enabling artists to create, students to explore, and audiences to consume epic and adventurous presentations that cannot be mounted elsewhere in New York City.”

Last Wednesday night was one of those “realizations.” It’s kind of a refined version of “Show Business.” Yes, this was a fund-raising dinner – and they raised over $2 million – but it was also the whole point of Thompson and Rose’s (and many supporters and partners) Armory.  They honored Michael Bloomberg and Rob Ashford, the award-winning director who two years ago directed the Armory’s production of MacBeth starring Kenneth Branagh. There was a special performance by Patti LuPone singing Sondheim and Jule Styne. After dessert there was another performance by a group from Brooklyn called Sky Pony.  
While guests find their tables and chat with friends before the program is set to begin, the dancers move among the crowds ...
Sky Pony performing.
But the star-turn performance was the Event. It was conceived by Stefan Beckman, directed by Kevin Newbury, with Costumes and Headdresses designed by Darrell Thorne.

Mr. Thorne was on the bill with Ms. LuPone and the Sky Pony group. The costumes were the actors/performers and the entire Drill Hall was in blue and grey lighting (and special effects) – except for the events on the stage, when there were events on the stage. So you were in a show that you were not Of but nevertheless physically connected to. Those of us who have attended before know that it is a Show Not To Be Missed because if it’s at the Armory, it’s going to amaze.

It was a huge crowd of several hundred. Black tie sort of. The invitation said “Black Tie/Electric.” You tell me. “Attire” on invitations these days are as confounding as a lot of contemporary attire. So I did the black tie part, as did most other men, and the women festooned for us.
Patti Lupone on stage singing with a background of the city's canyons at night.
Seated for dinner.
The table looks like this.
Ms. LuPone serenades Rob Ashford at table before he is presented his award.
More performing Sky Pony.
... while the dancers accompany.
And then the ceiling opened up with blue and grey balloons, and guests got up to dance among the balloons and the dancers.
And the Great Departure was just about to begin in the Park Avenue Armory after an extraordinary gala benefit.
Among the guests: Marina Abramović, Bill and Karen Ackman, Wendy Belzberg and Strauss Zelnick, Marisa Berenson, Emily and Len Blavatnik, Michael Bloomberg and Diana Taylor, Emma Bloomberg, Matthew Bronfman,Jamie Drake, Andrew Farkas, Fe Fendi, Adam and Olivia Flatto, Agnes Gund, Janine and J. Tomilson Hill, Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, Linda Lavin, Almudena and Pablo Legorreta, Elihu and Susan Rose, Daisy Soros, Ed Galligher, Ruth Wilson, Lynn Wyatt, Heidi McWilliams, Noreen Buckfire, Guy Robinson and Elizabeth Stribling.
Elihu Rose, Michael Bloomberg, and Adam Flatto.
Angelo and Svetlana Acquista. Amanda Riegel and Wendy Belzberg.
Elihu Rose, Rebecca Robertson, Diana Taylor, and Michael Bloomberg.
Agnes Gund and friend. Daisy Soros and Ed Gallagher.
Adam Flatto, Olivia Flatto, and Robert Ashford.
Claude Shaw and Lara Meiland Shaw. Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos Valesca Guerrand-Hermes.
Felipe Escalante, Lynn Wyatt, and Amy Fine Collins.
Emanuele Fiore and Janna Bullock. Gwen Norton and Klaus Enrique.
Helene Feldman and Liz Stern. Madison Papp and Patrick Janelle.
Michael Bloomberg, Patti LuPone, and Robert Ashford.
Lise Evans and Christine Mack. Joan Steinberg and Caryn Schacht.
Ida Liu, Tom Shiah, and Patricia Shiah. Jamee Gregory and Jennifer Creel.
Liz Newman and Heidi McWilliams.
Millen Maghese and Michael Weinstein. Mary Wallach.
Tom and Bonnie Strauss. Pierre Audi and Marieke Peters.
Ziel and Helene Feldman. Tom and Heidi McWilliams.
Ellery and Marjorie Gordon and friends

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