- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Young and well-heeled new supporters rubbed elbows (and bumped posteriors) between tables and on the dance floor with diehard benefactors at the Washington Ballet’s psychedelic, tie-died, sold-out “Beatles Ball” at the Mellon Auditorium on Thursday night.

It was about time to have some fun, especially since dancers, staff, board members and fans were thrilled and relieved to be finally celebrating the end of the labor/management crisis that derailed operations from mid-December to early March (when the contract with the American Guild of Musical Artists was finally signed).

In just over two months, gala chairwoman and ballet board member Cindy Jones pulled off a much-needed magic trick by raising a half million dollars, bringing in a bevy of new donors and creating a colorful, funky atmosphere to break all previous fundraising and attendance (500-plus) records.

“The Ballet is back, stronger than ever,” Mrs. Jones said as she posed for photographers in a striking Roberto Cavalli gown. “We have 75 sponsors including Fannie Mae at $35,000 and two dozen donors of $25,000 and $10,000, the most we’ve ever had.”

Ballet newcomers, many of them personal friends of Mrs. Jones and her husband, Evan, included Jean-Marie and Raul Fernandez, George Cloutier and Tiffany Spadafora, Julie and Mike Connors, Holidae Hayes, Dibbie Conahan and James Oldham, Maggie and Tom Sheedy, and Holly Muldoon (with fiance T. Hale Boggs).

Jim Kimsey reluctantly agreed to share his table of young beauties with Philippe Cousteau (grandson of Jacques, the patriarch of oceanography) while major donor and proud papa Arturo Brillembourg danced to the inevitable Beatles’ hit with his daughter Clara. Board Chairwoman Kay Kendall welcomed to her front table the evening’s diplomatic patrons, soon-to-depart Dutch Ambassador Boudewijn van Eenennaam and his wife Jellie (ravishing as always in a gorgeous lilac gown).

By coincidence, Washington Ballet prima ballerina Michelle Jimenez, who performed before dinner, is also soon to leave artistic director Septime Webre and the rest of her “ballet family” for the Dutch National Ballet. Before departing, she is dancing in the company’s upcoming three-week performance of “7x7,” traveling for another three weeks with Trey McIntyre’s company, and then returning to Wolf Trap for one final curtain on Aug. 8.

Mr. Webre, ever the showman, seemed especially pleased with the evening’s vibe — “fabulous, elegant and wild, just like our chair, Cindy Jones.” Ms. Kendall, simply dynamite in a white Grecian strapless gown, couldn’t help mentioning a new problem she didn’t mind especially much: “With this sell-out crowd, seating became a challenge. There’s just so much room around the dance floor.” Ms. Kendall was also relieved her beloved company had “definitely recouped” its financial losses during the time of troubles. “Now, we can start out next fall without a big debt,” she said.

Later, she and principal dancer Runqiao Du set the scene by making nice with a silly back-and-forth recitation comprised of titles of favorite Beatle tunes. (“Although we had to ‘Twist and Shout’ with the press … the dancers and the ballet finally learned that ‘All You Need Is Love,’” etc.) Then, in a precious moment of public reconciliation, the former adversaries reached out to each other and cooed, “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

The music was earsplitting, the boogeying got a bit rowdy and, as Mrs. Jones put it, “It was hard to get people to go home. They wanted to dance all night.”

Diplomats seen kicking up their heels included the ambassadors of Afghanistan, Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Israel, Morocco, Paraguay and Romania. Also spotted: Nina Auchincloss Straight, Lucky Roosevelt, John Firestone, Pamela Peabody, Ann Camalier, Davy and Linda Camalier, Donald and Ann Brown, Connie Carter, Katherine Bradley, Bill and Dorothy McSweeny, Robert and Mary Haft, Robert and Aimee Lehrman, Carter and Lisa Cafritz, Conrad and Ludmilla Cafritz, Nini Ferguson, Mariella and Mike Trager, Grace Bender and Lou and Di Stovall.

“There were a lot of people I don’t know here tonight, but the more I don’t know the better I feel,” longtime board member Bill Harwood said of the eclectic crowd. “It means we have all these new, young supporters coming in, and that’s just great.”

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