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Robert Abrams
Morgana Mellett
Galas
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Ballet
Cha-Cha
Hustle
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School of American Ballet (SAB) 80th Anniversary Winter Ball 2014

by Robert Abrams, Morgana Mellett
March 3, 2014
Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.
140 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023
212.875.5456
Morgana Mellett contributed reporting and photo captions to this article.
Morgana Mellett and I attended the dessert and dancing portion of the School of American Ballet 80th Anniversary Winter Ball. This portion of the event, from 9 pm to Midnight, opened with a piece d'occasion choreographed by Silas Farley and featuring student dancers from the School of American Ballet.

The performance, drawing on elements often found in ballet classes, was lovely.

Following the performance, the dancing began, slowly at first. The dance floor was initially crowded with people talking to each other, many in glittering and elegant attire. The Winter Ball was sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels, Epoch Estate Wines and J. Mendel Paris. The fabulous "starry night" setting was created by Ron Wendt Design.

Little by little, though, the DJ's infectious music got people moving as sure as a flame will heat a pot of water to a vigorous boil. The SAB ballet dancers started the social dancing, and then many others joined in. It was a good transition within the party. There was no pause in the party from dance performance to everybody dancing.

These dance company galas can be an odd mix, at least from my perspective as someone obsessed with all forms of dance. Often these galas are filled with attendees who love to watch dance, but don't dance themselves. These events often have the potential for social dancing, but have a quiet floor. Not tonight. The DJ spun a variety of danceable music continuously for three hours. Had the SAB staff not gently guided people towards the coat check a little after Midnight, a fair number of the guests might have stayed until dawn.

As a trained social dancer, my general expectation of dance galas is that I am not likely to find a dance partner. So I brought a friend and colleague. Morgana doesn't know any social dances, yet, but she is a superb and experienced dancer in general (she often dances professionally with Lori Belilove's Isadora Duncan Dance Company), so I figured I would show her a few steps of Hustle (for some reason, dance galas often feature Hustle-conducive music), we would dance two or three songs, and I would be satisfied with the evening.

All was going according to plan. The DJ put on a song that could also be a Cha-Cha, so I showed Morgana the basic Cha-Cha step. That was when a woman across the dance floor happened to look up, and said, with enthusiasm, "Do you Cha-Cha?" Something like that. I wasn't taking notes. Anyway, I asked her to dance, and she accepted. The connection was good. We kept dancing throughout the night. It was magical, and an honor to dance with her. Once in a while, the years of lessons can prepare you for an accidental meeting, which it was, but my feeling is that the probability of a happy, platonic social dance accident at the SAB Winter Ball was higher than at some other dance galas I have attended.

But you didn't need to know your inside turn from your outside turn to have a good time at the SAB Winter Ball. Nearly everyone, maybe everyone, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves, whether they were dancing strictly ballroom or bopping to the beat. Morgana was Duncaning out to the music, and looked perfectly natural, like, of course you go to a gala and dance early Modern-inspired moves to a DJ. It turns out there is such a thing as recreational Modern/contemporary dance.

I was expecting the dancing to take place directly on the stone floor of the Koch Theater. This time, they put down a dance floor, I suspect because the floor of the Mezzanine was covered by a very large, and very extraordinary, photograph of dancers, and they probably wanted to minimize the wear and tear that a lot of active dancing might cause. The dance floor was a white, shiny substance. I don't know exactly what it was made of, but it was very fast. I was wearing LaDucas with gummi heels (optimum for dancing on stone), which are very capable dance shoes, but the floor was so fast, I was slipping a few times. I almost would have been better off dancing in rubber soled dress shoes. Not the end of the world, but an interesting challenge.

Sometimes the floor is unknowable, at least in advance. You make do with the dance shoes you have. Sometimes you can take your shoes off and that can work too. What is most magical about dance is not appearance. What is most magical about dance is the real possibility of trusting someone you didn't know the day before, for three minutes, an evening or however long the music may play.

The floor also often was crowded, so steps needed to be kept small and tight, which wasn't easy because the event's energy was so good, it was conducive to abandon.

Was the SAB Winter Ball a good value? Judging by the student performance, the event certainly supports a very worthy organization. Tickets to the event ranged from $100 per person for young patrons for just the dessert and dancing to $100,000 for a premium table of ten with dinner. My feeling was that if you felt comfortable spending your chosen amount on a night out, the worthiness of the cause combined with the high quality of the event made the SAB Winter Ball a very good value. It is probably in part because the SAB Winter Ball was a very good value that it raised more than $1.2 million.

If you need to Cha-Cha or Hustle, bring a dance partner or three, but there is also a chance you will find someone to dance with at the SAB Winter Ball. There is also a good chance you will find someone to talk to. In fact, SAB should help people make those connections, because the more people you know who like attending a gala, the more likely you are to attend a gala.

The bottom line is, if you love the ballet and you love to dance, the SAB Winter Ball should definitely be on your social calendar.
The SAB dancers with Silas Farley.

The SAB dancers with Silas Farley.

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano


Innocent and sweet in their faces. Eagerness of young dance students. Excited to be performing. Isadoran Greek-esque. Weaving circular pattern.

Innocent and sweet in their faces. Eagerness of young dance students. Excited to be performing. Isadoran Greek-esque. Weaving circular pattern.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Battement extension to the front or a develope.

Battement extension to the front or a develope.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


There were duet and trio moments within group work. This arm movement was used a lot in the choreography.

There were duet and trio moments within group work. This arm movement was used a lot in the choreography.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Intricate interplay of dancers and shadows.

Intricate interplay of dancers and shadows.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


This grouping, performed twice, was one of the sweetest moments in the dance.

This grouping, performed twice, was one of the sweetest moments in the dance.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Sculptural use of space. There were many shapes in the piece.

Sculptural use of space. There were many shapes in the piece.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


A dancer looks like he is flying. He had a nice, fluid, acrobatic quality of movement. He was really moving and dancing well.

A dancer looks like he is flying. He had a nice, fluid, acrobatic quality of movement. He was really moving and dancing well.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


A great smile. Delicate, relaxed ballet hands. Lightness in her feet. She embodied many feminine ballet qualities.

A great smile. Delicate, relaxed ballet hands. Lightness in her feet. She embodied many feminine ballet qualities.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


The dance used a lot of poses and sculptures.

The dance used a lot of poses and sculptures.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


The performance, showing the entire company and stage. The luminescent dance floor looks like it is an excerpt of another dimension floating in space.

The performance, showing the entire company and stage. The luminescent dance floor looks like it is an excerpt of another dimension floating in space.

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano


Curtain call. Everyone looked happy at the end of the show.

Curtain call. Everyone looked happy at the end of the show.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Elegant table setting and starry backdrop.

Elegant table setting and starry backdrop.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Daniel Ulbricht and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Daniel Ulbricht and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano


SAB dancers with Maria Kowroski.

SAB dancers with Maria Kowroski.

Photo © & courtesy of Erin Baiano


Social dancing.

Social dancing.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


The social dancers had fun, including imaginative use of the imaginative centerpieces.

The social dancers had fun, including imaginative use of the imaginative centerpieces.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Social dancers – the dance floor was generally more crowded than this photo makes it look.

Social dancers – the dance floor was generally more crowded than this photo makes it look.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams


Enthusiastic, talented dancing to the very end of the night.

Enthusiastic, talented dancing to the very end of the night.

Photo © & courtesy of Robert Abrams

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