- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

You know Christmas is just around the corner when the ladies who lunch take their young daughters proudly wearing red velvet dresses and bows in their hair to the Washington Ballet's Nutcracker Tea Party.
"We celebrate the world of ballet, and we celebrate Christmas at the same time," noted tea-party co-chairwoman Mary Haft, whose daughter Laura was one of about 200 little girls in attendance.
The event, which took place in the Willard Inter-Continental hotel's ballroom after last Sunday's matinee performance of "The Nutcracker Suite" at the Warner Theatre, raised an estimated $25,000 for the Washington Ballet (at $125 per ticket).
The halls and staircases leading to the ballroom were lined with cast members dressed as mice, nutcrackers and Victorian-era Christmas revelers. Tables were adorned with tiny nutcrackers and miniature Christmas trees a setting as magical as the "Nutcracker" performance itself.
The tea party, which isn't confined to tea, of course (there are piles of finger sandwiches, pasta dishes, sugar cookies and ice cream everywhere you look) gives children an opportunity to chat briefly with the beautiful cast members and get their pictures taken.
Gorgeous Michelle Jimenez, who dances the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, sat in a corner of the ballroom in her pink tutu and toe shoes, smiling radiantly as she greeted a never-ending throng of petite fans.
Clare Specht, 5, matchless in her ankle-length pink dress and matching faux fur coat, was one of those waiting patiently in line.
"Clare's in love with her. She wants to be her when she grows up," said Clare's mother, Erin Kelly, of Silver Spring, who added that her daughter has been taking ballet lessons for about a year.
While stealing a glance at the radiant Therese Gahl (a 12-year-old who plays leading lady Clara), Paris Campbell, 8, of Northwest admitted she might like to dance the part herself one day. She attended the tea with her grandfather.
"I've danced for five years, and I am trying to get into the Washington School of Ballet," Paris announced after returning with Therese's autograph.
Virginia Williams, Mayor Anthony A. Williams' mother and a former opera singer, paid tribute to the company's annual Christmastime effort.
"'The Nutcracker' is one of the top ballets, and the Washington Ballet gives young people a chance to perform, which is wonderful," Mrs. Williams said.
"My 9-year-old granddaughter plays one of the rats, and she's very happy about it," Mrs. Williams noted with a laugh. "She's moved up from last year, when she was only in the audience."

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