- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Very few arts groups continue to maintain separate women's committees as fund-raising adjuncts to their boards of directors. Of those that do, the Washington Ballet has one of the most active.
Founded with the mission of providing the never-ending supply of slippers the dancers wear onstage, the committee has been responsible for keeping the company on its toes quite literally over the years.
"They cost $65 per pair and can only be used for one performance," said committee member Linda Foley Renzulli, sounding pleased that the "Puttin' on the Ritz" dinner dance she organized Friday night had raised an estimated $45,000 of the $75,000 annual shoe budget.
The group, she noted, has been able to "branch out to scholarships" in recent years, thanks largely to the success of the benefit.
It's not often that an embassy will host much less underwrite a fund-raising event year after year, but that's what the Finns have done since 1998, when former Ambassador Jaakko Laajava started the tradition. Jukka Valtasaari, his successor (and also, as it happens, his predecessor), has generously continued support as a way of highlighting his country's increasing reknown in the performing arts.
"Finland is coming to the fore, especially in the past five years," Mr. Valtasaari told 175 guests just before dinner was served in the embassy's stunning glass-and-steel-enclosed Finlandia Hall. "It's not just Sibelius anymore," he said before naming a host of stars who have gained international acclaim recently, including sopranos Soile Isokoski and Karita Mattila and conductors Osmo Vanska, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Mikko Nissinen.
Mr. Nissinen, as it turned out, was the guest of honor at the event after having flown in from Boston, where he has been directing that city's ballet since September 2001. "I'm part of the Scandinavian invasion," he said, branching out geographically from his own country to include himself in the ranks of Peter Martins, the Danish ballet master of the New York City Ballet, and Icelander Helgi Tomasson, artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet.
Mr. Nissinen, 40, had plenty to talk about with Washington Ballet Artistic Director Septime Webre. Both their companies mount major moneymaking productions of "The Nutcracker Suite" each year at Christmastime. With 48 performances, 140 cast members (including 56 dancers) and 16 truckloads of sets and equipment, Mr. Nissinen's version may be more spectacular, but Mr. Webre vowed to catch up.
"We need to upgrade, make it fresh," he said after agreeing with Washington Ballet President Kay Kendall that $1 million just might do the trick.
Guests dined on wild-mushroom tartlets, roast venison and baked Alaska at tables decorated with rose-filled top hats, faux pearl necklaces, white gloves and votive candles wrapped in bow ties. Dancers from both the Washington and Boston ballets performed admirably, but so did the audience later when the Fifth Avenue Band drew such guests as Willee Lewis, Morris and Jaci Reed, C.D. Ward, Marsha Nelms and Lolo Sarnoff onto the dance floor.
Kevin Chaffee


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