- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

The 33rd annual Russian New Year's Ball, which took place Friday at the Mayflower, is steeped in tradition. Russian costumes, music, dancing and food vodka, beef stroganoff and (sometimes) borscht have been event staples for as along as anyone can remember.
Princess Alexis (Selene) Obolensky was dressed as always in folkloric ball garb a shiny sarafan dress and a bejeweled kokoshnik headdress that looks a bit like a miniature miter as befits the dowager doyenne of a ritual featuring the 36-member Washington Balalaika Society playing "God Save the Czar" and "Ochi Chornye" ("Dark Eyes").
The committee, heavy with the names of Russian emigre aristocratic families, read like a guest list for a Winter Palace court ball in the days of Czar Nicholas II: Prince and Princess David Chavchavadze, Prince and Princess Gregory Gagarin, Princess Maria Poutiatineand others of that ilk.
"It's an elegant, grand event and one of the few where men actually come to dance," Princess (Eugenie) Chavchavadze said as the balalaikas and a lively Gypsy troupe made way for waltzes, fox trots and rhumbas by Sydney's Orchestra.
While most of the Old World customs have stayed true to form through the years, a few changes were evident.
The presence of Russian Ambassador Yuri V. Ushakov and his wife, Svetlana, (who arrived in a luxurious full-length mink coat) never would have occurred during the Soviet era.
"He's a good friend," Princess Chavchavadze said. "He wants things to get better in Russia."
The communist regime's fall, it seems, had its effect on ball-gown etiquette, as well.
Red, which was a no-no in Evil Empire days, was worn by Suzanne Tolstoy-Miloslavsky and other guests, while Comtesse (Anita) d'Anselme opted for a more Romanov-friendly shade of blue.
The most visible change this year was the absence of Prince Obolensky.
Princess Obolensky said her octogenarian husband wasn't the only senior who didn't make it; she had to rearrange much of the seating among the 300 guests at the last minute because so many friends were too old or sick to attend.
However, this old guard is not about to abandon its beloved ball just because of a few ailments here and there. That would be very un-Russian, indeed, especially because proceeds benefit charities assisting Russia's children and elderly.
"My New Year's wish is to be back here next year and for everyone else, including my husband, to be here, too," Princess Obolensky told the crowd. "Our friends even said, 'If Alexis can make it, we can, too.'"


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