White Russian: The Mariinsky Ballet and White Nights' Gala

Diana Vishneva

Last night, the Mariinsky Ballet returned to New York for the first time in 10 years for opening night of Anna Karenina. The event was held at Lincoln Center, where, just hours earlier, the cast of Harry Potter appeared before thousands of frantic fans at the premiere of the final installment of that series. Stragglers still hoping to catch a glimpse of Harry, Ron and Hermione sat on the steps of Lincoln Center nursing their sunburns as guests made their way into the Metropolitan opera house for the ballet.
Inside, the lobby of the Opera was packed. Women in elegant gowns dabbed at their glistening brows as they advanced against a sea of people to get through the ticket-checkers. Legions of aged Russian ladies with giant costume earrings and red mouths slashed with lipstick prattled and pushed their way forward, adding to the commotion.
Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky was in the audience with his friend, director David Kruglikov, who anxiously tapped his foot throughout the performance. Gossip Girl’s Matthew Settle also made an appearance, strolling down the center aisle, the collar of his shirt popped up prepster-style.
The snowflake chandeliers were raised and the audience settled back into their plush seats. Prima ballerina Diana Vishneva played the part of the tormented Anna with incredible precision. Her highly stylized movements gave form to the complicated choices and ultimate tragedy of the Russian woman’s life, despite a pared-down set of cloud projections and modern, rather than classical, music.
After several rounds of applause and a standing ovation, guests of the White Nights of America Foundation made their way through the hot, sticky night to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel for that organization’s annual gala.
Revelers crammed into elevators and made their way to the 36th floor, where a quick round of cocktails preceded a sit-down dinner. Sipping Champagne and white wine, guests discussed all things Russian.

Tony Cointreau, festively clad in white-tie, shared his love of the 1935 film rendition of Anna Karenina. “If you ever get a chance to see it on Turner Classics … ” he said with a theatrical wink, peering over his tinted glasses. His jade Buddha broach smiled serenely as he leaned on his black cane.
We saw Mr. Aronofsky from acrossthe room bombarded by photographers. He had never seen the Mariinsky perform and had thoroughly enjoyed himself. “I thought it was amazing,” he said. “It’s nice to see modern music and a modern stage, and the dancers are just remarkable. How they move—every inch of how they move,” Mr. Aronofsky reflected. We asked the director about his rumored upcoming projects. “I’ve got stuff coming up, but it can’t keep me away from the ballet,” he replied.
We found our table and soon began sipping on chilled pea soup. A dinner of roasted Chilean sea bass was served, followed by a berry tart topped with marscapone. The dancers arrived toward the end of the meal to a round of rousing applause. Vodka shots were passed around for guests to toast the performers, and needless to say, the tipple was of Russian origin.
Immediately after dessert, the dining room doors were thrown open, revealing the after-party lounge. Sean Lennon’s girlfriend, Charlotte Kemp Muhl, wearing a kind of Victorian handkerchief on her head, made her way to the lounge area and talked with Mr. Aronofsky.
The dancers mingled with the guests in the lounge area. A daring few threw back shots of vodka presented in glasses made from ice. Deejay Gabriel Prokofiev, the grandson of legendary Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, spun an eclectic and intense set for the occasion, mixing dark classical melodies with modern beats.
Former Reagan White House social secretary Lucky Roosevelt stayed late into the evening. The performance was “just fabulous,” she said. She raved about the music. “And I’m not attuuuunnned to music,” she drawled in her Tennessee accent, pointing to her bejeweled ear.
Russian beauties-turned-New York socialites Veronica Greene and Laura Kempo shared their thoughts on the ballet. “We wished there was more sex,” The Observer heard. “Pardon?” we asked. The platinum blonde women in matching gold dresses looked at each other. “More sets,” they annunciated. “I miss stage sets,” Ms. Greene said wistfully. Both women had desired something “more opulent” from the mise-en-scene.
Director of the White Nights Foundation Princess Kristina Kovalenko flitted about in a full-length white dress, chatting and laughing with guests throughout the evening. “They were like synchronized swimmers!” she said of the Anna dancers. The Russian beauty was glad the Mariinsky had finally returned to New York, a city she visits quite often. “I’m always at the Met Opera,” she said. “I love.”
We caught up with soloist Yuri Smekalov before heading off. He told us about more upcoming performances from Mariinsky ballet, including one well-known Russian fairy tale called “The Little Humpbacked Horse.” The steely eyed Ruskie said the night’s program had gone “perfect,” and that he was very much looking forward to performing in “zee leetle hompy horrs.”

Around 12:30, various groups of both young and old began to pack into the elevators and descend the 36 stories to street level. Outside the sleepy guests hailed their (hopefully well-air-conditioned) taxis and slid off into the humid New York night.