- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

Midsummer Nights in Old Europe were steeped in pagan ritual and myth — lovers leaping over bonfires for luck, tales of animals speaking in human voices, gossamer-winged fairies and sprites flitting about. In Washington, however, a Midsummer Nights celebration is inevitably going to be less about magic and wood nymphs and more about money and schmoozing.
The Womens Committee of the Washington Ballet hosted its version of a summer solstice party at the opulent residence of Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov on Thursday evening, a black-tie affair featuring caviar, champagne and diamonds galore.
The event was a way to mark the beginning of summer and to applaud the closing of the ballet season and the work of its innovative artistic director, Septime Webre. More practically, it was a way to encourage wealthy Washingtonians to attend the ballet, and to contribute money to its programs.
The 250 guests who included Prince and Princess Alexis Obolensky, Lolo Sarnoff, Gertrude dAmecourt and Vladimir Tolstoy (Leo Tolstoys grandnephew) paid $135 apiece, allowing the Womens Committee to collect more than $15,000 for the cause. The ballet will also be receiving 25 percent of all sales made at the event by the Parisian jewelry maker Korloff, whose staff hovered over a glass case of glittering goodies.
"You cant buy exposure like this," Korloff representative Philip Proetto confided, eyeing some of the already-bejeweled guests admiring $14,000 diamond rings, $325 pens and an especially popular watch adorned with diamonds and rubies that was priced at $8,900 ("Thats the small size," a saleswoman pointed out). Mr. Proetto was eager to explain the appropriateness of Korloffs presence: "We think we combine the boldness and grandeur of Russia with the elegance of French design."
Womens Committee President Carole Randolph and party co-chairwoman Marsha Nelms modeled some of the finer pieces, including a $50,000 necklace that she hoped her husband, Refik Muawwad, would buy. "If its a good night, itll be mine before the nights over," she whispered, mischievously. Her borrowed watch, she added, cost $11,000, and the diamond ring was $25,000.
"And Im priceless," Mr. Muawwad chimed in, optimistically.
The display was set up in the Golden Room, a jewel in itself. The residence, which served for decades (until 1994) as the Soviet and, later, Russian Embassy, underwent an extensive renovation in the 1980s that included the application of 20 pounds of gold leaf to the rooms elaborate moldings.
Across the hallway in the wood-paneled Walnut Room, a line formed for generous helpings of red and black caviar. Mr. Tolstoy noted that the black caviar is far superior and that its salty flavor is enhanced if you first have a shot of vodka, because "then the vapors come up from your tummy" a very Russian twist on the art of caviar consumption.
Mr. Ushakov welcomed the crowd by noting that this time of year is especially romantic in St. Petersburg. The beautiful Baltic city is famous for its "White Nights," when dusk meets dawn. "Its a time when no one sleeps, and those in love walk around the whole night through, til sunrise," he said, "and of course drinking a lot."
The evening was also a celebration of dance. Next season is the Washington Ballets 25th anniversary, and Mr. Webre plans to introduce the ballet "Carmen" featuring the music group Sweet Honey and the Rock, and a version of "Where the Wild Things Are," based on Maurice Sendaks childrens book.
Mr. Webre has managed to triple subscriptions to the ballet in his two years as artistic director. The former New Yorker loves his new city, and believes hes been successful here in part because "Washington audiences are energized by new ideas."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide