- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The well-heeled South Florida gals gathering to gossip and preen weren't hard to spot at the party for the Miami City Ballet Wednesday night. Blond and tan, with eye-catching silhouettes and a surfeit of slinky black, sequins and shine, the glamorous group provided stark contrast to the low-key Washington balletomanes waiting to greet founding Artistic Director Edward Villella and his dancers after their stunning presentation of George Balanchine's "The Four Temperaments" at the Kennedy Center's International Ballet Festival.
"We're 'Eddie's groupies,' and we're out in force," said Rhoda Levitt, a ballet board member who helped mobilize and cheerlead the 175-strong group for the dancers' performance at the festival alongside some of the world's most prestigious companies.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez and Reps. Katherine Harris and Kendrick Meek were among the political Floridian VIPs spotted during pre- and post-performance bashes on the Roof Terrace, although former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala certainly was a standout in an eye-catching red bolero cape. Miss Shalala, who is president of the University of Miami, told pals it had been a particularly tough decision to fly to Washington for the ballet instead of attending one of the school's basketball games.
The arts scene has flourished in the Miami area in recent years, and the Miami City Ballet has blossomed to the point where it is receiving unprecedented international recognition for so young a company. Founded just 17 years ago (the first season featured a program on a cruise ship), the ballet has earned acclaim with neoclassical, Russian imperial, French and Danish Bournonville-style works as well as more contemporary efforts (Paul Taylor, etc.) under Mr. Villella's inspired direction.
At the post-performance party, Mr. Villella recognized that his company's presence among such august participants at a major festival was yet another milestone.
"Appearing with the Kirov Ballet and accomplished English National Ballet principals gives a certain comfort and, more importantly, gives the dancers a deeper sense of themselves " Mr. Villella said. "Being accepted outside of your province is special because it's easy to become enraptured by your own audience."
Not that "Eddie's groupies" would worry much about that, of course. They're fiercely loyal and don't mind traveling to ensure their hometown dancers get at least one extra ovation at curtain call wherever they appear.
"I'm not even from Miami," said Mrs. Harris (a Sarasota Republican), "but I claim them in my heart."
Kevin Chaffee

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