BWW Review: LA Ballet Gala 2019 at Beverly Hilton
On Thursday, April 11th, Los Angeles Ballet celebrated its 13th Annual Gala held at the Beverly Hilton. Equipped with a Red Carpet and VIP Guest List, the evening was a delight and successful fundraiser.
In a young but extremely diverse cultural city like Los Angeles a Ballet company should act as a cultural centerpiece for the city. Every great city has a professional ballet company but in a City that values commercial over classical and pop music over Tchaikovsky where does LA Ballet fit in?
In Jennifer Homans, book Apollo's Angels, she writes a eulogy to ballet in the epilogue. Classical Ballet, as we know it, is dying. Homans argues that Ballet must evolve or die. When will the narrative shift from pleading for funding to keep classical ballet alive, to celebrating the richness of Ballet in the United States? Even Balanchine toured his dancers through North America with a simple loaf of bread on the dinner menu.
A feather in our seats for bidding, name cards, and incredible centerpieces, there were 270 attendees at Gala dinner. Some guests included: Nigel Lythgoe, producer, director, and judge of the hit TV Series, So You Think You Can Dance? With a big glowing smile, Nigel enjoyed scotch and banter with friends and colleagues. Jamil Kharrazi, founder of the Toos Foundation, danced with Mikhail Baryshnikov and values the Balanchine classics. And, LA Ballet Principal Dancer, Tigran Sargsyan, who represented the company with his charming presence.
The MC for the evening was Adam Shankman, the esteemed director, producer, and choreographer. He dazzled us with humor and his own personal experience with Ballet. "Ballet is not for p-ssys," he proclaimed. He quickly added that he was referring to the dancing cat videos that go viral on the web. They don't stand a chance against real ballet. Assuming we can equate p-ssys to cats in this scenario, ballet is not for cats. It's for the honor and appreciation of humanity and the arts in the world. Dance can lift our spirits and enrich our lives.
Shankman prepared for the evening by taking his own ballet classes. "It's on La Brea, how hard can it be?" As Angelinos chuckled off the proximity joke, he continued to joke about Coachella and compared the #metoo movement to the Ballet, Giselle, providing relevance to classical ballets and modern social issues.
Artistic Director, Colleen Neary spoke of how she, Artistic Director, Thorsden Christinsen, and Executive Director, Julie Wittaker, got together thirteen years ago because of extreme passion. They raised $600,000 for the 2019 Gala alone with a goal to raise sums of $925,000 that evening for their 2019-2020 fiscal year.
SYTYCD? Producer, Nigel Lythgoe, and Actress, Camilla Belle, introduced the impact of arts education and outreach with Turnaround Arts and telling about 50,000 POP (Power of Performance) participants that received free tickets to see LA Ballet Performances. For arts nonprofits, outreach programs are nothing new. How are they going to reach the middle ground. Not the gray-haired supporters or 2nd grade brown and black youth. There's a massive disconnect between pop culture, the masses, and the insular elitism of Ballet.
Einstein said, "Dancer's are the athletes of God." They follow their passion, endlessly condition their minds and muscles, to express the work of magic for us. They are a pure source of vast inspiration in the world.
In the Company's performance of Balanchine's Serenade, the sparkling black tapestry strung with white and blue lights set the scene. A modified opening to fit the fact that there was no curtain worked as the dancers walked in to place on the spatially limiting stage.
When principal dancer, Petra Conti, made her entrance the rest of company started to light up. There was a collective unease and eventually dancers began to perform and smile. In the limiting environment the dancer's épaulement became that much more important. With the hustle and bustle clinking and clanking of the dinner and wait staff, it's no wonder the dancers struggled to keep our attention.
Company Dancer, Madeline Houk, carried a striking performance quality. Look out for Madeline in future seasons. However, I did wonder why Principal Dancer, Bianca Bulle, was not on stage? Dancer's came out after the performance modeling gorgeous designs by fashion designer Bari Milken Bernstein of Milk Boutique.
Mark L. Walberg, a long-time supporter of LA Ballet and father of a professional ballet dancer, led the live pledge. Walberg mentioned Lebron James' salary as it runs circles around the equally esteemed ballet dancers and reminded us that just $20,000 can do a lot. He inconsiderably joked that he wants to see his daughter "on a barre instead of a pole." Thankfully, the charming Co-Chair, Leslie Kavanaugh, spoke next.
The new focus for the company this fiscal year is two-fold. 1) Shifting their operations model and 2) more funding. The second one being a no-brainer, they did manage to raise over a million dollars that evening. That seems like a wonderful success but when compared to the multi million dollars NYC Ballet and other major broadway houses need just to keep the lights on, a million dollars doesn't scratch the surface.
Another indication of lack of funding is the absence of live music. This divorced nature between live dance and pre-recorded music also strips the ballet performance experience of it's magic. Another supporter, Eva Koehler and her mother spoke of LA needing a solid professional ballet company. She goes back to Germany where she's from to get her dose of strong Ballet performance including live orchestra.
Board Member and President of UCLA Health, Johnese Spisso, received the Global Impact Award. "Investment of the arts is an investment in support of our community," she professed.
Beautiful actress, Sofia Carson, received the Ambassador Award and spoke of her gratitude and love for Ballet. The 25-year-old, wore a stunning crimson gown and spoke with such conviction around the support of her mother nudging her into ballet class as a little girl.
Her young energy in support of the Company is a huge leg up for the Los Angeles Ballet. Twenty-somethings must receive access to ballet to appreciate its beauty and impact on the world. Los Angeles Ballet is on to something inviting young, budding public figures to attend their performances and events. And with any luck and a few more instagram followers, reciprocity will reap reward.
Find out ways to give or get involved here: https://losangelesballet.org/individual-giving
The Silent Auction included the following: Art by Melanie Taylor Kent, Photography by Terry O'Neil, photography publications by Gered Mankowitz, Street Art by Bansky, A "Three-Night Stay at the Fairmont Chateau, A 2-Night Stay & Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, A lounge experience for 2 at the Hotel Erwin Rooftop, Viking 8-day Cruis, A Portrait session with renowned photographer Randall Slavin, Andre' de La Torre Beauty Package at the London Hotel, A Museum Flight through Los Angeles, A VIP Nutcracker Experience, Aviva Aarmy Design Studio fine jewelry, The White Crow private screening at fox studios, Richard Mallk, Hirschfeild, Elton John record and photos, Gwen Stefani tickets in Vegas, and more. Co-chair, Leslie Kavanaugh, shouted out at the last minute that there would be another bid for a helicopter ride.