The 30th Annual National Museum of Dance Gala
A NIGHT OF PURE POETRY
“Every pearl’s a star above
Wrapped in dreams, and filled with love”
– The Glenn Miller Orchestra – “A String of Pearls”
SARATOGA SPRINGS – According to UrbanDictionary.com, a ballerina can be described as “a dancer of the utmost grace and eloquence. Albert Einstein called ballet dancers “athletes of god”.
On Saturday, August 12, I find myself using similar superlatives to describe The National Museum of Dance 30th anniversary, Pearl Gala Celebration.
My night of pure poetry began as I pulled up to waiting suited gentlemen. After my car door was opened, I stepped onto the red carpet and was helped out of my car. I was then met by a woman holding a large umbrella to keep me dry. She led me to the entrance of the Gala.
As Lisa Champagne and I meandered through portions of the Museum, towards the cocktail hour in the main foyer of the museum, appetizers prepared by Mazzone Hospitality were presented to us on white platters. Perfect bite sizes pieces of filet mignon speared with tiny silver forks, chicken parmesan balls with a drizzle of herb adorned tomato sauce, fresh watermelon salsa and feta on top of kale and spinach chips.
The cocktail hour, was filled with impeccably dressed men and women posing for pictures, sipping champagne and admiring the “pearl accents”. During this time I had the pleasure of meeting Safwat Gerges, General Manager of Arthur Murray.
He was kind, humble and overjoyed to be at this event because of what it represented. Later in the evening, I would watch his face from afar as his son, Christopher Gerges danced with a similar amount of passion and pride.
After just the right amount of time, we were then kindly asked to travel down another red carpet to the lounge area of the main event. The room was a sea of white, perfectly placed hanging mirrors, stunning arrangements of flowers, and multiple head to toe silver live statues.
The bar was fully stocked, with bartenders poised to pour bourbon for the tuxedo clad gentlemen leaning on the bar. Next to the bar was a pop up white lounge with oversized pillows, plush white carpets and a big screen projector, providing live coverage from inside the venue.
Once the dimmed lights flashed the doors opened to the main room and guest were treated to a vision explosion of beauty and pearl theme. The first thing I noticed was the centerpieces. In a unique twist, Balloon Girl Jenny created table to sky floating pearl strands using various sized balloons.
Chargers, placemats and place cards were providing just the right amount of pearl accents to tie them into the event yet not overpower each other. The walls of the studio were either adorned with crisp pearl white drapery or mirrored walls mixed with images of dancers – all with a soft glow to make the room appear simply magical.
There was not one detail left unnoticed, nor any individual who did not look stunning.
As patrons sat and began to indulge on their first course of mesclun greens topped with grilled shrimp, julienne roasted red peppers, burrata and mozzarella pearls (see even the food was tied in), accented with a balsamic-filled pipette accompanied by garlic bread crostini, a movie played reminding those what makes the National Museum of Dance a true work of art.
And a work of art must have an artist. Tonight that honor was bestowed on museum founders Marylou Whitney and Lewis A. Swyer as they were inducted into the Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame. In addition, special recognition was given to honorary chair, 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Tommy Tune and special guest 1999 Inductee Arthur Mitchell.
The admiration and respect for the honorees and board of directors was apparent during both introductions and speeches.
Lewis A Swyer’s children spoke on his behalf and his son’s opening line was, “My God this is incredible”. He told a story of his father’s love for dancing, how Lewis would work all day as a builder then drive all the way up to Saratoga and watch a whole ballet. He stated, “When the curtain went up he would be the first to stand up and yell Bravo.” Daughter Suzie stated, “This whole event is brining tears to my eyes,” and read a short poem that she wrote about her Father called Dancing with My Dad. The last line of this heart felt and touching poem read, “dance and my dad are forever connected in my heart.”
Museum and School of the Arts Director, Raul Martinez praised Michele Riggi for her 12 years of service as President of the Board of Directors. He acknowledged her vision, hard work and her love for the arts and dance. He then presented her with a necklace, adorned with three pearls to represent each decade of the museum.
As the applause died down, the podium was moved and dinner was served. Grilled petite filet mignon and lobster tail, white potato duchess, pencil asparagus, baby carrots and petite pearl onions drizzled with demi glaze and drawn butter were presented with perfect harmony.
While the guests awakened their palates, they were treated to five separate yet each spectacular performances.
The Lombard Twins, world-renowned artists and performers walked onto the stage wearing black ripped pants layered with chains hanging down to their thighs, crisp white button down shirts under black blazers, each rolled up to their forearms, black bands around their wrists and pure white sneakers. They each wore their hair in a messy bun and proceeded to move so fluently and succinctly that I could swear they were one person. As the music changed, faster and with more intense percussion, the twins changed their shoes-from sneakers to tap. At this point, people moved to the music in their seats, the beat within their own bodies, some swayed forward and back, others rocked side to side as the Lombard Twins danced their hearts out.
As the lights dimmed, thirteen young School of Arts performers took to the dance floor. Their leotards were white, with white rings of Saturn skirts gently swaying around their hips. Their hair was pulled back in a synchronized tight bun adorn with silver metal circular fragments and their lips were stained red. Their dance was primal and graceful at the same time as they moved from Jete to en pointe.
Once the dancers made their exit and the last morsel of food was gone, Michele Riggi announced to the crowd, “Have a wonderful evening and now let’s dance”. On my way out I was handed a one of a kind hand dipped candle from northern lights and a National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame – Celebrating 30 years hardcover keepsake book.
I was reminded of the first part of the Museum’s Mission Statement, “to cultivate, promote, foster and develop amongst its members and the community at large, the appreciation, understanding, taste and love of dance and its history, and to provide the means for popular instruction and enjoyment thereof.”
This event was just that.
And, like Mr. Lewis Swyer, it merits a standing ovation from me. BRAVO!
The MARRIAGE OF ELEGANCE TO SOPHISTICATION… AND A TOUCH AVANT-GARDE
SARATOGA SPRINGS – In one brief moment,the room became silent. Eyes shifted to the table where she was sitting. Her soft raspy voice beckons the attention of all in attendance. She speaks passionately, relishing in every detail as she recounts the conversation she had more than thirty years ago; a conversation which sealed the deal that she and late husband Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney would endorse a National Museum of Dance and Hall of Fame.
Few can command attention like Marylou Whitney, and she has earned that privilege. For decades, her philanthropy has positively impacted Saratoga Springs and surrounding communities. Her partnership with the late Lewis Swyer established the only museum in this country dedicated exclusively to the art of dance. This year’s gala was a celebration of that. More importantly, it was the 30th anniversary celebration of the National Museum of Dance—an institution recognized globally and whose success has been built by the hard work, tireless efforts and financial support of so very many. This, my friends was the gala of all galas to attend in Saratoga this summer!
Without question, Museum President and Gala Chairwoman Michelle Riggi orchestrated an event to remember. The 30th anniversary extravaganza was exquisitely designed. The ambience was a beautiful marriage of elegance and sophistication and a touch avant-garde. Tall, slim models wrapped in silver garb sauntered gracefully throughout the party and the “Living statues” cleverly placed throughout the venue captivated their audience.
Drinks flowed freely and Mazzone Hospitality once again didn’t disappoint as they provided guests a plethora of foods and a main course suitable for a King. The entertainment of the evening was of course nothing short of entertaining! Performances by Momix, Harrison Ball of the New York City Ballet, world-renowned artist + performers the Lombard Twins as well as dancers from Arthur Murray and the museum’s very own school of arts were a wonderful treat!
If you’ve never toured this Museum, I urge you to do so. This gala was my very first time on the premises and I was thoroughly impressed! My blogging partner & I were taken aback by the rich history depicted by the many costumes, photographs and paintings on display. We may have gotten slightly carried away with our excitement but I assure you—The National Museum of Dance is more than worthy of a visit.
But fashion was a show stopper…
I would be remiss if I didn’t make note of the glamorous style and breathtaking evening gowns worn by the lovely ladies attending this historic occasion. So here it goes…
Searching this gala for a best dressed title would be equivalent to searching for a needle in a haystack. Everyone in attendance looked stunning! Check out a few of my fashion favorites and real show stoppers!
GENERATIONS OF SUPPORT
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Mandy and Lisa did a fine job recounting and putting you in the scene at what is easily the purest ‘show-biz’ event on the Saratoga summer social schedule. Though I did not attend due to unforeseen circumstances, I have been to many Dance Galas in recent years, in addition to covering a good number of events here, to offer a long-term perspective about this great looking 30 year-old institution.
I want to echo Raul Martinez’s praise of Michele Riggi and her dozen years at the helm, and amplify them to say that she has been at this long enough to truly say that she has an era.
As in “The Michele Riggi Era.” At The National Museum of Dance.
(Something tells me she might like the sound of that.)
Of course, this is an era that we are still living through, and one that hopefully will continue for quite some time. But you don’t acquire an era by just longevity. You get it by doing something significant and distinctive. And this, Michele certainly did.
But some people might have just moved here, or came to know this Museum recently, and there has been enough time to define the distinctiveness of her leadership.
Simply put, it wasn’t always like this.
To be sure, the Museum has improved its financial footing as it has proceeded, but in addition to that nuts-and-bolts money stuff, when Michele Riggi took the reins, she started with the philosophy that put the Museum on that road to greater excellence. And while I don’t recall her saying these specific words – everything I have heard her say, to me, or to an audience, about dance and the Museum, has, in my opinion, added up to this:
Everyone can dance,
So: Everyone WILL Dance!
It doesn’t matter if you dance on the floor, sway in your seat, or dance with just your mind. This is the NATIONAL Museum after all – and everyone is welcome.
Under her singular leadership, Michele Riggi realized that say, a Michael Jackson was as important as an Edward Villella to dance history; Tommy Tune and Ben Vareen as important as Rudolf Nureyev. And a sense of history that determined that this, their 30th year, was the moment to honor the museum’s founders – Ms. Whitney and Mr. Swyer.
Not just perfect timing – just perfect!
And in so doing, providing the leadership that bestowed a Lifetime achievement award upon John Travolta – Michele made the world safe for LeBron and D. Wade, as well as you and me, to dance. For we all must dance.
And, now the ‘dance floor’ is open – open for generations to come. Generations of support – for our beloved National Museum of Dance.
Put another way, building a new audience of younger fans is exactly what our horse racing industry has been struggling to achieve. But with modern exhibits, an enhanced School of the Arts and more, Michele has this museum poised for the future because it embraced the current trends in all forms of the discipline.
I figured it out: Michele Riggi is the poster woman for the word: Driven. A one-woman Equestricon!
And, a ‘pretty durn good’ line dancer too…
Speaking of Travolta, I recall that when Mr. Vinnie Barberino / Tony Manero was going to be given the Lifetime award, it was big news. Michele could have given the scoop to a network affiliate, a regional paper or something like that, and I assure you, they would have lapped it up with gusto. Instead, she chose me.
Lil’ ol’ me.
When people are nice to me, particularly when they don’t have to be – I don’t forget!
I guess this is my way of saying thanks, Michele. For the scoop, yes. But for all you have done, are doing, and will do.
August 18, 2017