“Vive la France!” Jamee Gregory triumphantly declared last Thursday night. Ms. Gregory, and an army of uptown sophistiquées stormed Lincoln Center for the New York City Ballet’s Spring Gala. With black-tie battle wear, the decidedly avec-culottes crowd celebrated La Republique, the evening’s theme and leitmotif. “As a Vassar French major it’s my favorite thing.” Ms. Gregory said of the country. “And I’ve loved everything French all my life.”
Indeed, Ms. Gregory’s sunny sentiment seemed to pervade the crowd. Enjoying the balmy spring conditions, several guests enjoyed cocktail hour dehors, sipping French wine and champagne on the balcony of the Lincoln Center promenade. Many took liberties à la francaise, dragging casually on cigarettes and looking down upon the rank-and-file attendees entering downstairs.
Inside, clusters of grapes hung from cross-hatched frames, beneath which a latter-day court was gathering. Natalie Portman, Alexandra Kerry, Carol Mack, Grace Coddington, Catherine Malandrino and Olivia Chantecaille mingled in the fanciful cru.
Like many guests appreciating the festive scene, Waris Ahluwalia warbled admiration for Paris. “It’s a gorgeous city. I’m a huge believer in history and romance— t’s my world. So that’s, like, the center. That and Rome. But we’re not talking about Rome,” he said. Hoping Mr. Ahluwalia would delve deeper into his love of French history (waxing lyrical about left-wing bourgeois and champagne socialists, perhaps), we pressed him.Seeing his friend Jamie Johnson, however, he demurred. “The history of this man is what appeals to me,” he proclaimed collegially.
Mr. Johnson was one of the few non-francophiles in the room. Indeed, it seems he has veritably neglected the country, vis-à-vis his vacation schedule. “I don’t spend a great deal of time in France. I haven’t visited France in at least two years,” he explained.
Still, he has many memories, good and bad, from le pays. “I’ve had a lot of fun in Paris. I’ve had fun in Normandy,” he shared. “I don’t think I’ve had that much fun in the south of France, although I’ve been there at the wrong time of year when it’s a little too crowded.”
The filmmaker’s taste in French cinema, however, is surprisingly canonical. “Favorite French film, I don’t know? 400 Blows probably is up there on the list,” he said.
Designer Gilles Mendel appeared on the scene with not one, but two, towering Mariannes at his sides. Mr. Mendel had crafted the costumes for one of the evening’s numbers, and shared his thoughts on the experience. “When you design for ballet, or any kind of performing art you don’t have to look so close to the details,” he explained, though a heavy French accent. “It’s a very big challenge, mostly for a company like mine, and my aesthetics that are usually very, very keen to the details.” Still and all, Mr. Mendel relished his part in the production. “I am just an extension of the beautiful art,” he said, waving his hand with singularly French nonchalance.
Soon, bells were ringing and attendants were ushering people to their seats. As the lights dimmed, a symphony of spring-time sniffles and coughs erupted, while the offending consumptives searched desperately in handbags for cough-drops and tissues.
After Peter Martin’s “Mes Oiseaux,” a modern ballet created exclusively for the evening, the audience watched fourteen dancers deftly execute Benjamin Millepied’s “Two Hearts.” The piece ended with a duet, danced to a northern European folksong “Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor,” which details the fateful affaire de coeur among the two titular characters and an otherwise unnamed “brown girl.” The song, sung by Dawn Landes with Appalachian intonation, ends in a double-murder suicide.
The dance earned rave, if slightly confused, reviews form the open-minded audience at intermission.
“It’s about a Caucasian woman and an African-American woman,” one guest whispered theatrically to her neighbor, apparently hoping that her liberal ethnological determination would be overheard.
Others, however, were preoccupied with the visual spectacle. “It’s my favorite piece now, the last one,” Fe Fendi gushed at intermission. “I love these costumes so much. I love them. Everything was magnificent,” she said.
Ms. Fendi loves France, like the ballet, and drops by often. “I love Paris!” she said. “Last year I went a lot because my daughter was studying at La Sorbonne, so it was a great excuse. I took that plane every month!” She maintained diplomatic poised, however, when asked about the recent French election. “How can we say?” she wondered. “Let’s hope for the best.”
Following the intermission, the audience enjoyed George Balanchine’s classical and deeply conservative Symphony in C. After rich rose bouquets were distributed to the performers, guests returned to the promenade for dinner.
Drew Barrymore and fiancé Will Kopelman greeted friends as they found their table. Ms. Barrymore, who strategically obfuscated her blossoming midsection beneath a white Chanel gown, extolled the performance. “Oh! I thought it was just so beautiful! I loved Benjamin Millepied’s piece, and I loved the last piece, and I loved looking at the costumes.” So much love! As for France, Ms. Barrymore explained that the country is, or soon will be, in her blood. “My mother-in-law is French,” she said, anticipating her upcoming nuptials, “and she loves the ballet. So it’s very near and dear to my heart.”
As guests were settling into their seats, we spotted Dimitri Karageorgevich, Yugoslav Prince and jewelry designer, ogling a friend’s feather-shaped diamond earrings. We asked his professional opinion on the piece. “Fa-bu-lous! It doesn’t get any better!”
Soon, we were eating poussin beneath a soaring bouquet of hydrangeas. Sadly, however, we were divested of our red wine, as an already over-served neighbor purloined our glass, immediately pretending the incident had not occurred.
Finally, we found the man of the hour, Mr. Millepied. Naturally, we asked about the final, haunting folk song. “The idea was to really go through all the movements and end up in this very pure place.” But, what of the brown girl? Was he striving for an elaborate Faulknerian racial undercurrent? Mais non. “No, well the song is really a tragic love story, a triangle love story,” he said, rebuffing the antebellum connotations.
With love, wine, and ballet (and a faint shadow of political provocation) the evening was indeed, perfectly French.
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