Shindigger: A Sinful Night of Dance

3 634407771737187500137393 13 alebenthal 051111 029 Shindigger: A Sinful Night of DanceNew York City Ballet married Broadway and Balanchine at their annual Spring Gala, which featured the premiere of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, a collaboration between the ballet’s company and the Tony Award-winning singer Patti LuPone. The veteran Broadway actor Victor Garber (best known for his role in Titanic and soon to be starring as Prince Charles in Hallmark’s William & Kate: A Royal Love Story) shared a moment with choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett when he reached the end of the red carpet. He said he’d danced before, though “I haven’t seen enough ballet to be an aficionado.” He’s better known for theater and stage work than for his collaboration with the choreographer Martha Clarke: did the dancing send him into jittery ballerino’s neurasthenia? “No, no, no–it’s just the way I normally am–demanding of myself and hard on myself.”  This summer, Mr. Garber plans to rebuild a vacation house. Heavy lifting ahead?! “God, no! That’s what I pay people to do.”

Outside the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, The Observer caught sight of designer Betsey Johnson storming by and leading a model on a metal chain. The model lifted her skirt and mooned the photographers. The model represented “anger” in a project of conveying the seven deadly sins (we didn’t see any of the other six during the evening) and had expletives and “ANGER” written across her chest and arms in what appeared to be Sharpie marker. Was the model in pain? “Do dogs complain?” Ms. Johnson asked The Observer.

New ballet trustee Sarah Jessica Parker, chic in glittering Valentino, came down the carpet immediately after Ms. Johnson. “You should talk to Sarah Jessica!” said a P.R. flack attached to Ms. Johnson. Ms. Johnson looked abashed for a moment, and did not. Also dressed for the evening: Alexandra Lebenthal in teal tulle, with long train and ribbon in her hair. Was the tulle a tribute to ballerinas? “That’s interesting! I didn’t even make the connection. My husband always fights with me because I yell at people for stepping on my train–but I love a train!”

Brooke Shields came down the red carpet next, and we asked the Broadway veteran what the difference was between a dancer and an actor. We’d been intrigued by dancers’ monomaniacal, mercurial temperaments since seeing Natalie Portman in Black Swan–an interest compounded by Ms. Portman’s beau Benjamin Millipied’s recent freakout at a Times reporter who asked after Natalie. “There’s a certain discipline that comes with the physical,” said the ultrafit star. “You see unbelievable performances from actors who aren’t that healthy, but dancers…” So they must be pretty boring, or crazy, right? “No! They’ve just been exquisite specimens, and committed… and fun!”

The program for the evening included both The Seven Deadly Sins, in which Ms. LuPone intoned the tragic story of a woman’s loss of innocence in her travels across America, set to dance, and Viennese Waltzes, the George Balanchine classic writ large with a sumptuous forest set. 

For the designer Erin Fetherston–resplendent in purple of her own design, accompanied by her rock-star boyfriend Gabe Saporta–experimentation can’t beat Balanchine. “I think I’m a sucker for the more classic. I love ballet-I want to learn so much more about it.” She sat down, awaiting her halibut; the room’s serene calm revealed nothing of the anti-Tea Party protests against the Koch family that had erupted outside the Koch Theater earlier in the evening. 

Patti LuPone had knocked out a terrific performance, the culmination of more than a year of planning and rehearsal, but she didn’t look peaked at all as she stood on the dance floor, hugging one well-wisher after another. Though she’s a master of her form, she said there’d been much to learn from Wendy Whelan, the lead dancer in The Seven Deadly Sins. “To watch her every night is perfection.”

So, she hadn’t fallen down the rabbit hole of Black Swan psychosis?

“No. And I hated the way they represented ballet.” She paused for emphasis. “Haaaaated it.” Another pause. “Big time.”

Social fixture Coco Kopelman, digging into her mango sorbet, explained that she hadn’t been familiar with the Brecht-Weill ballet: “1933′s a little before my time.”
There was Ms. Whelan, the dancer. Had she heard about Mr. Millipied–her New York City Ballet colleague–and his tantrum? She paused and looked unnerved, if gracefully so. “All I can say is … I’ve never experienced anything like that.”

We made our way past a crowded dance floor–now packed with boogieing social types showing off their best moves with the gusto of ballerinas–toward Vanessa Williams, the actress, who invited us to sit by her. Could she have been a dancer? Ms Williams replied, “Well, I did dance!” She amended: “I only took two years.” Why stop? Never one to be unduly modest, Ms. Williams replied, “Because I could do singing and dancing and acting. I could do all three!”

ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_

Edited by Daisy Prince

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