Eat, Dance and Be Merry: The American Ballet Theatre’s Culinary Pas de Deux

Marcelo Gomes, Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein lift and tuck.

Walking past rows of conspicuous hood ornaments at the Chelsea Piers, The Observer could smell the party well before we could see it. A heady mixture of curry and truffles filled the parking lot as we trekked to Manhattan’s western extremity, the Lighthouse at Pier 61.

At the entrance to the American Ballet Theatre’s Culinary Pas de Deux, we were greeted by several young dancers in Renaissance peasant costumes. With deep curtsies, the ballerinas directed us inside.
The space had been converted into a veritable smorgasbord for the grand alimentary fete, with chefs from the city’s top restaurants churning out hundreds of mini dishes for the guests to enjoy. Serving stations, interspersed with well-stocked bars, became the sites of swirling feeding frenzies as attendees strove to get their fill.

Trying to balance the myriad plates without sullying their cocktail attire, guests juggled various cuisines, taste-testing the wide array of fodder. Curry carrot soup was followed by “Salmon Caviar” (roe, for the more literal minded) crêpes, then lobster and halibut ceviche. Carnivores indulged in pork and black truffle terrines, while the more Mediterranean-inclined sampled manti with yogurt foam.

Attendant waiters shuffled deftly around the room with massive trays, upon which guests placed stacks and stacks of discarded plastic plates. Having added our dinner detritus to one such pile, we set out to speak to some of the ABT patrons circulating the space.

Our company was split between longtime ABT loyalists, dancers and younger patrons of the arts. Bob Ginsberg fit comfortably in the first classification, having held a subscription to the ballet for 30 or 40 years, by his account. “I had absolutely no culture as a Jewish kid from the Bronx. Even though Jews are supposed to have culture, we didn’t,” he laughed. It was after law school that his aesthetic sensibilities matured. “I’ve subscribed every year,” he said proudly. Recently, Mr. Ginsberg has supplemented his refined artistic taste with a more off-color diversion: supporting the Occupy movement. “I’ve marched with them a couple of times,” he explained, admitting that he recently gave the group $20 as he passed their encampment. “Then I went back and I said, ‘I’m part of the 1 percent! But my money is just as good.’” He flashed a knowing grin.

We noticed a svelte female guest and, briefly glimpsing her allongé stance, decided that she must be a danseuse. The prima in question was in fact Iveta Lukosiute, world champion ballroom dancer. Ms. Lukosiute, however, is not unfamiliar with the world of pirouettes and arabesques. “I take ballet classes almost every day,” she told The Observer. “I’m not a ballet dancer,” she was quick to qualify, “but I take ballet classes. It helps a lot. Ballet is a good foundation for every style of dance,” she pronounced.

Alessandra Rotondi, a former ballerina turned wine consultant, took a more notional approach to the art form. “If you know what dancing means, you know how to live life. And even when you stop dancing you keep focusing on your ultimate goal. It’s like being in the army,” she assured us. Having ignominiously dropped out of ballet school after our sashays were consistently deemed sub par, we decided to take her word for it.

ABT dancers Marcelo Gomes, Misty Copeland and Craig Salstein emceed a spirited live auction, in which not one but two onstage appearances (one as a Capulet corpse, one as a fleeting pirate in Le Corsaire) were sold to balletomanes eager for their moment, however, brief in the spotlight.

The dynamic trio followed the auction with a brief comedic dance performance to “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” (the Tony Bennett version, fortunately). With that particular paring of agility and strength achieved solely through ballet, Mr. Gomes and Mr. Salstein competed for Ms. Copeland’s affections, all the while executing complicated lifts and spins, to the audience’s delight.

Three sets of ABT dancers who had paired off in their personal lives came to the stage for a hammy version of “The Dating Game,” complete with Herb Alpert’s enduring classic, “Spanish Flea.” The couples answered prying questions related to their gastronomical tendencies (“What is the most annoying thing your date does while eating?”) and scribbled down their answers furiously.

After the game, The Observer spoke to one of couples. Dancers Cory Stearns and Gemma Bond had been dating for two years, and dutifully agreed to participate in ABT’s Dating Game when asked to contribute to the Pas de Deux. “It was an experiment, and I don’t think they’ll do it again next year,” Mr. Stearns said. “It was a little embarrassing,” he admitted.

As we left, Whitney Houston’s tune “I Want to Dance With Somebody” thundered throughout the room, as professionals and amateurs shared the stage, dancing like everybody was watching. Eat, Dance and Be Merry: The American Ballet Theatre’s Culinary Pas de Deux