- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

The milestone fund-raising party the Washington Ballet threw for its 25th birthday Tuesday seemed a model of its kind, according to many who paid a minimum $500 to attend.

That wasn't just because Laura Bush attended the company's gala performance in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater. The first lady was accompanied in the presidential box by her mother, Jenna Welch, and a few personal friends from back home in Texas.

Queen Noor of Jordan also graced the formally clad assembly, although, unlike the first lady, she didn't stand to acknowledge the crowd's applause at the start of the show. Washington Ballet founder Mary Day also got a round of heartfelt cheers when she was introduced by the company's artistic director, Septime Webre, as did former executive director Elvi Moore.

The program began with the arrival onstage of two outsized costumed figures from the company's production of "Where the Wild Things Are," providing laughs. Major treats included performances by two very capable students from the Washington School of Ballet and a special guest appearance by Ethan Stiefel, principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, who dazzled the crowd with a pas de deux from "Giselle" danced with ballerina Amanda McKerrow. One of the most moving moments of the night occurred at the end of the program when Washington Ballet alumni and teachers joined dancers and company staff onstage as a multitude of colorful balloons cascaded joyously from above.

The usual remarks delivered between dance segments mainly excerpts from favorite classical and modern ballets were kept blessedly brief. At one point, board Chairwoman Kay Kendall presented an award to Calvin Cafritz honoring the $2 million the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation has given the company through the years.

An unusually large swath of social and diplomatic Washington was on hand, including Ann Jordan, C. Boyden Gray, Bitsey Folger, Catherine B. Reynolds, Robert and Mary Haft, Sidney and Jane Harmon, Victor Shargai, Henry and Malan Strong and the ambassadors of Singapore, Colombia, Morocco, Greece, Denmark, Finland and Italy. Somber former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen remarked that he thought the situation in the Middle East was "going to get a lot worse." Queen Noor also was preoccupied with the current crisis but politely declined to be quoted. She seemed visibly relieved when queried about her interest in dance while growing up in Washington. (She took a few ballet classes but turned out to be "more of an equestrian.")

It probably helped that the hourlong program ensured that the festive post-performance dinner didn't stretch too far past Washington power brokers' self-imposed midweek curfews. The most energetic folks who included Mr. Webre, pink-gowned event chairwoman Penne Percy Korth and seemingly indefatigable company members took advantage of the band to the utmost, and the dance floor rocked continuously to '70s golden age of disco hits, especially during dancer Aaron Jackson's riotous routines with several of the less inhibited female guests. Conrad Cafritz had shed jacket, tie and even his cuff links by the time the backup singers belted out "I Love to Love You, Baby," and Jonathan Ledecky proved he really did know all the moves to "Y.M.C.A."

"A very sexy party," the very social Sydney "Nini" Ferguson rightly noted as the carousing corps de ballet kept things hopping till midnight.

Even non-boogieing benefactors Jim Kimsey and Fred Malek, who are trying to bring major-league baseball back to Washington, were duly impressed.

"If we could get athletes like that on our team," Mr. Kimsey mused, "we'd be sure to win a pennant."

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