Pièce d’occasion

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The SAB students performing their pièce d'occasion. Photo: Duane Hampton.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019. Nice day, yesterday in New York. Sun was out. Temps in the low 50s. Couldn’t complain. Just ask the geese.

Sunbathing around the perimeter of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Photo: JH.

Last night at the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, the School of American Ballet was celebrating its 85th Anniversary. This is a beautiful evening. Again, like the concerts of the Vienna Philharmonic last week, this annual event, “Winter Ball” is a fund-raiser.

It was organized in 1934 by George Balanchine, the Russian choreographer and Lincoln Kirstein and Edward Warburg who was also involved in the early days of the Museum of Modern Art. Warburg’s childhood home on Fifth Avenue is now the Jewish Museum in New York.

Arriving at Lincoln Center at 7:20 p.m. The David Koch Theater is directly ahead on the left of the Josie Robertson Plaza.

What amazes me to read about these masters of our culture who created/established their interests in the arts for the world, is that they were very young men. Balanchine was 30 and Kirstein was 27. Warburg, who was 26, was a teacher and patron of the arts as well as a philanthropist. The intention of the men was to develop a ballet company but first beginning with a school. First came the training to create a company, just as Balanchine was trained at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg in the 19-teens and early 1920s.

Their main objective was to start a major ballet company in America in the classical fashion. Many of the early teachers were emigres from the Russian Revolution. They understood the intent. 85 years later the founders are immortals in the ballet world. And now the New York City Ballet is considered one of the finest ballet companies in the world. I am not a balletomane so I cannot argue the point. Three, going on four generations later, it is a mature enterprise which has all the commercial requirements for its great success and influence.

What amazes me to read about these masters

What interests me about the School is what the student learns besides the Dance. Discipline, work, dedication, responsibility to oneself and one’s work. These are ideals of course, but the result are its alumni, thousands of people, once students, who had an especially impressive preparation for adulthood and self-reliance.

The evening started with cocktails at 6:30. I got there late since dinner was to be at 7:30, and I’d miss the cocktail hour. I wanted to cut to the chase. However I arrived at 7:20 and the lobby of the theater was crowded and people were still arriving. Cocktail hour ran until almost eight. So I stood around and took a few photos to amuse myself. Watching the women.

The thought was to give you an idea of what it looked like and what they were wearing. It was black tie although the tradition has expanded into other variations on formal duds. The women remain mainly in fashion, some long dresses, some short. One younger woman, tall and blonde and ample, was wearing a black dress slit up to mid-left hip. I kept trying to catch her “in full fashion” so to speak, but she was too animated and moving around for the lens. Bill Cunningham would have caught it.

The Promenade of the theater was theatrically set for the dinner, dramatic with the reds and blues. The dance floor was black mirrors that looked like a serene dark pool when you walked by it. Once everyone was seated, Carrie Hinrichs, Executive Director of the SAB, welcomed the guests (there were upwards of 350). She called all of the School directors up to the podium for a group shot and applause of congratulations. She was followed by Jonathan Stafford, the company’s Artistic Director. Stafford was a student at the SAB when he was a kid, and had a successful career as a principal dancer.

L to R.: Entering the Promenade.; A table arrangement.
My dinner partners John Dobkin and Duane Hampton.
SAB Executive Director Carrie Hinrichs at the podium having introduced and congratulated the directors.

Then there was a great video presentation, a short documentary on the school and the students. Again, what is so impressive is the seriousness of the students who also at the same time are in the midst of loving what they do, and what they are learning. The demands it makes on their time and their discipline appears to only enhance the pleasure. Watching it, I could only think how great it would be if we had the genius to make that the nature of all public education.

After the dinner and dessert, the students performed (as is the tradition for this dinner) pièce d’occasion choreographed by Emily Kikta. And after that, the dance floor was open – and jammed. A rewarding evening for the guest and for the School of American Ballet.

The David Koch Theater at 10:20 PM.

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