- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

"This is a truly historic evening," Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser told dinner patrons Tuesday after the first "Evening With the Kirov" spectacular. For once, the familiar hyperbole seemed apt.

The gala event brought together for the first time on an American stage members of the famed Kirov opera, ballet and orchestra of St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre in a special program titled "A Tribute to Tchaikovsky." It probably helped that Valery Gergiev, the Kirov's dynamic general and artistic director (who was listed as one of the evening's hosts), directed the performance while wielding his baton from the pit.

A moving and poetic duet from "Iolanta" was followed by a triumphant rendition of George Balanchine's ballet, danced to the Russian master composer's elegiac "Serenade" by 20 filmy, blue-clad ballerinas. Then came a rousing scene in a gambling den from "Pique Dame." Three more offerings took place after intermission, including a dramatic extract from the little-known "Mazeppa" opera.

Sets were changed with split-second timing, but, even so, the program itself lasted just over three hours followed by dinner upstairs in the South Gallery at $350 per person on top of the $180 performance ticket. Mercifully, remarks were brief, although Mr. Kaiser couldn't resist saying that "flying 551 people to Washington is not a cheap venture. They are great artists, and we pay them."

Alas, the grandest patron of all, arts philanthropist Alberto Vilar, underwriter of the Kirov's Washington appearance (the first in a 10-year plan), couldn't make it to the celebration, being felled by chronic back problems in New York. Others who did included Kennedy Center Chairman James Johnson and his predecessor, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who happily volunteered at dinner that he had seen all of Tchaikovsky's "Mazeppa" in St. Petersburg.

Memories of Russia abounded. Esther Coopersmith spoke of her many treks to St. Petersburg and of the festivities she's helping to plan next year for the 300th anniversary of its founding by Czar Peter the Great. Janet Langhart Cohen recalled that she had been on the first non-Soviet aircraft allowed to fly between two Russian cities in 1989, on singer Julio Iglesias' plane, no less.

Her husband, former Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, was fresh off his regular weekly gig on CNN's "Moneyline" report with Lou Dobbs and had other parts of the troubled globe on his mind most notably South Korea, where he felt President George W. Bush had "a very difficult line to walk" during his recent state visit.

"He has to support negotiations with the North without preconditions and at the same time discourage [nuclear] proliferation activity and get them to pull back from the DMZ [demilitarized zone]."

After the lengthy performance, it was hardly surprising that cocktail chatter was notably brief before dinner (smoked salmon, lamb chops and chocolate mousse) was served in the relatively quiet confines of the Roof Terrace Restaurant, where Lady (Valerie) Solti, widow of conductor Sir Georg Solti; Librarian of Congress James H. Billington; Svetlana Ushakova, wife of Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov; philanthropists Otto and Jeanne Reusch and Gilbert and Jaylee Mead; Wolf Trap President Terry Jones; Washington Opera Executive Director Walter Arnheim; Kennedy Center Vice President Ann Stock; and Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre were among the guests.

Others sighted at the performance or dinner included William McCormick Blair Jr. and his wife, the ever-glamorous Deeda (just back from the Paris fashion shows); ABC News correspondent John Cochran; lawyer Lloyd Cutler and Polly Kraft; banker Frank Saul and Tricia Saul; Ann Jordan; Ina Ginsburg; John and Antonia Gore; Kay Kendall; Jonathan Ledecky; Grace Bender; Evelyn and Charles DiBona; and Gahl Hodges Burt.

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