Dancers on Point and Blooms in Focus

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Philadelphia Ballet principal dancer Nayara Lopes performing the Dying Swan from Swan Lake at a YAGP luncheon hosted by Kamie Lightburn at The Colony Hotel in Palm Beach.

“Why does everyone complain they HAVE to go to all these parties?” my friend wondered as we ubered back from Kamie Lightburn’s luncheon at The Colony. Guilty as charged I mused. The siren’s call of the invitation is FOMO. Many at lunch had three more places to go before they slept. The next day, it’ll begin again.

“This season has been even busier and more glamorous than last,” said Swifty’s owner Robert Caravaggi. If sitting poolside with bubbly at Swifty’s doesn’t make you happy, nothing will. This winter, we spied Gwyneth Paltrow, Julianna Margulies, Greg Kinnear, Sly Stallone and Matt Dillon doing just that.

Swifty’s in bloom.

Palm Beach: bright smiles, bright colors, bright jewels. I went through my entire snowbird wardrobe in one month. Several shopping trips later, I return with new jewelry, designer dresses and sequined gowns.

Brady Farrar, Kamie Lightburn, and Nayara Lopes.

Now, every day, cars are being hoisted onto northbound trucks. Still, the pace won’t stop ’til you get on the plane.

We thought of Oprah’s grand car giveaway, during Lightburn’s lunch. It’s the third year she’s invited her friends to celebrate Youth America Grand Prix, where she serves on the board. Instead of cars, all who could attend were getting $2,500 tickets to the New York gala ( on April 18th.

She wants to share the love. Friends and ballet, she told the room, “warm my heart.”

“Everything about ballet makes us happy, feeds our souls, inspires us,” she continued. “It’s unlike anything else, because it bridges athleticism and art. It is so deeply, deeply important. Just spend more time seeing it, experiencing it. It will change your life. I hope to touch each one of your souls in a different way. And I hope you’ll always come back.”

Like so many who support the art, Kamie had studied ballet — from age four to 12.

“Then my feet gave out,” she told me. “I’ll never forget the sadness of not being able to continue. Every single year my parents took us to see the Nutcracker and Swan Lake. The music, the dance — it emotionally changes you. I took my daughter when she was young and today we both share that as well.”

Kamie Lightburn and Sergey Goreev.

“Ballet is this beautiful flame that we can’t help but fly towards,” added Sergey Gordeev, YAGP’s Founding Director of External Affairs. “Dance is the most magical way we can communicate the human experience. We believe it can save the world.”

And YAGP is committed to saving dance. They do it by creating a world wide network — much like the internet, Gordeev likes to say — that connects young talented dancers to top dance companies.

“It has changed the way the world’s dance schools and companies look for and discover talent,” he told me, “and it has created a network of opportunity that allows any dancer, anywhere — from villages in Mexico to the far reaches of Australia — to be discovered. It is insuring the future of dance.”

They do much more. They have relocated more than 200 dancers from Ukraine, receiving a $1.3 million grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to continue. Behind the scenes, they’ve helped dancers defect.

“And we’ve been doing it for 25 years already,” Sergey marveled. “It’s crazy. Now, we’re working with Congress to designate YAGP as America’s official youth dance competition. And we’re about to break the Guinness World Record for most dancers on point simultaneously.”

ABT Studio Company dancer Brady Farrar performing the “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
Philadelphia Ballet principal dancer Nayara Lopes performing the Dying Swan.

At the lunch, Philadelphia Ballet principal dancer Nayara Lopes performed the Dying Swan from Swan Lake and American Ballet Theatre Studio Company dancer Brady Farrar performed the “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

“Watching the Black Swan dying brought everyone in my table to tears,” Kamie told me. “Dancers rock your world.”

Deni Hirsh, Brady Farrar, Kamie Lightburn, Nayara Lopes, and Sergey Goreev.
Bettina Bennett, Nicole Noonan, Lucia Hwong Gordon, Anka Palitz, and Nicole Salmasi.
Lisa Ruth, Kamie Lightburn, Angelic Famulak, Hannah Griswold, and Rema Parachini.
Aleksandra Efimova, Jan Savarick, Erica Kasel, Milton Townsend, Aurora Chinchilla, and Andrea Virgin.
L. to r.: Milton Townsend and Aleksandra Efimova; Logan Horne and Victoria Johnson.
Eleanora Kennedy, Jocelyn Javits, and Kara Ross.
Derek Zagami, Nicole Nowinski, Brittany Brown, and Tom Murray.
Kelli Gibbons, Danielle Rollins, and Suzie Aijala.
L. to r.: Paola Rosenshein and Nicole Salmasi; Meg McCartney and Pamela Mason.
Camille Branca, Evelyn Treacy, Anka Palitz, Valerie Cooper, and friend.
Brady Farrar, Pamela Mason, Nayara Lopes, Kamie Lightburn, Ramona Singer, and Paola Rosenshein.
Brady Farrar, Eleeanora Kennedy, and Nayara Lopes.
Myrna Haft, Holly Caracappa, Cindy Friezo, and Robert Friezo.
Michelle Worth and Evelyn Treacy.

More art and beauty awaited me a few days later, when I HAD to go to the opening of the Garden Club of Palm Beach’s “Blooms in Focus” Flower Show in the Hulitar Sculpture Garden of the Four Arts. I never say no to a Michel Witmer art tour. Witmer is Chairman of the Fine Art Committee at the Society of the Four Arts and a world renown art historian. He’s put his heart and soul into revamping its Sculpture Garden.

“It’s the centerpiece of the town, if you look on the map,” he said. “Situated just as you get off the bridge, its three different entrances welcome visitors from all directions.”

Michel Witmer with Mayor of Palm Beach, Danielle Moore.

Six years ago, Witmer began a Marie Kondo type inventory of the 600 or so sculptures in The Society of the Four Arts warehouse. He brought in experts from Christie’s and Sotheby’s to Palm Beach to help get pieces to auction. And they had to do it off season. That’s commitment! If you’ve never had the joy of South Florida in the summer, consider this: my Miami Beach family feels pounding the Manhattan pavement in August gets them away from the heat!

“We had a lot of lesser pieces that were not right for the collection,” Witmer said, diplomatically. Okay, “it was a warehouse full of junk that we were paying to store.” He auctioned off everything that didn’t spark joy and put those funds towards “elevating the collection with a few really great pieces.”

The top of his wish list: “an exceptional little Henry Moore 1965 ‘Flower’ sculpture. He got it at a true investment price, thanks to Brexit and an off season sale. ”We also acquired a beautiful Gaston Lachaise,” he told me. “And we were given some very major pieces, including a Beverly Pepper sculpture.”

A few of the prized possessions in the Sculpture Garden at the Four Arts (l. to r.): Henry Moore, Upright Internal/External Form: Flower, 1965; Gaston Lachaise, Short-Tailed Peacock, 1920.

Beverly Pepper, Crispina Senior II, 2014.

Someone put an empty glass on the Moore pedestal. Michel was not happy. He scurried over to remove it. His treasure unsullied, he continued. “Moore is the most important sculptor of the 20th Century. This is one of his Upright Internal/External Flower series on the theme of mother and child. They are all in major museum collections. We are so closely aligned with the Garden Club, and this size is so appropriate to the intimate feel of our grounds we were really fortunate to get this.” The Garden Club has offices in The Four Arts and maintains its lush grounds.

The “Blooms in Focus” flower show opening is a magnificent reimagining of the flower photography show that has been up this winter. “It features some of the premier living photographers today,” Michel continued. “A lot of them didn’t like when a curator assigned the flower theme. But, eventually, they embraced it and in fact, when they figured it all out, really fell in love with it.”

As did the Garden Club. “This show was not on our schedule, but we voted to have it,” their president Christine Aylward told me. “Next year will be our strict juried show. This one was just to let our creative juices flow. And everyone had a great time doing that.”

L. to r.: Floral interpretation by Nicole Limbocker Mimi McMakin and Nancy Murray; Floral interpretation by Annette Dowell and Ginny Parker. Each interpretation has been inspired by a photograph in the Flora Imaginaria exhibit and created by garden club members.

Jeff Koons with Floral Headpiece, New York, 2013. Photograph by Martin Schoeller; Floral Interpretation by Merilyn Beuttenmuller Katie Pressly.

L. to r.: Floral interpretation by Kate Gubelmann and Louisa Ordway; Floral interpretation by Mary Doffermyre, Melinda Hassen, and Kathy Weller.

Mimi McMakin and Joan van der Grift.
Lesly Smith and Kate Gubelmann.
L. to r.: Nancy Wildrick and Whitney Bylin; Nicole and Derek Limbocker.
Christina Kramer and Elizabeth Matthews.
Tom and Kathy Weller.
L. to r.: Sam and Vicky Hunt; Christine Aylward and Jean Matthews.
Mary Pressly and Vicky Hunt.
Mary Pressly and Susan Van Pelt.
Kate Gubelmann and Louisa Ordway.
L. to r.: Katie Pressly and Sarah Benitz; Nancy Murray and Heather Murray.
Nancy Wildrick, Leigh Failing, and Helen Fitzgerald.

Founded in 1928, the Garden Club remains a bastion of Old Palm Beach. “Some of our members were founders of The Society of the Four Arts,” Aylward continued. “Many were born and raised here.

“It has stayed on its mission of cultural and education improvement, essentially to demonstrate how gardening could be done in this area.” It’s divided into sections: the Chinese Garden (patterned after the Forbidden City in Beijing with antique Chinese panels and Black Bamboo plants), the Fragrant Moonlight Garden, Palm Garden, Bromeliad Garden, Jungle Garden, Spanish Facade Garden, Formal Garden, Tropical Garden, and Madonna Garden.

The Chinese Garden.

One piece you will no longer see in one corner lagoon: “We used to have a very life-like alligator sculpture,” Witmer told me. “But it was scaring everyone. In a town with a lot of pacemakers, it wasn’t the smartest thing!”

The now-empty lagoon.

Photographs by Annie Watt (YAGP); Capehart (Four Arts)

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