At 6 p.m. last Wednesday, a gaggle of elegant ballet fans crowding out onto the balcony of the David H. Koch Theater murmured excitedly about the return of the Paris Opera Ballet to New York City for the first time in 16 years.
These were the attendees of the Lincoln Center’s summer soiree, a fundraising gala that featured cocktails and appetizers before the company’s performance and a late dinner. One ballet enthusiast told The Observer that he and his wife had seen the company several times before in Paris. “For dance fans of both traditional ballet and contemporary ballet, this is as good as it gets,” said Steve Pesner. “And this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them in New York.”
The evening was in part a celebration of the history of collaboration between the power players of both the New York and Paris ballet world. Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center, told The Observer it was nice to have their French friends back. “We have a great kinship with the French ballet and we’re really happy to host them,” he said.
But facilitating the reunion was not an easy task, or a cheap one, mostly because of the huge size of the company of close to 150 dancers. Olivia Flatto, chairman of the American Friends of the Paris Opera Ballet, told The Observer that her organization worked to raise the funds for the show, which was part of a weeklong American tour with stops in Washington D.C. and Chicago. “It took an enormous amount of logistics and work,” she said.
“I was just saying tonight when I arrived in the taxi that we’ve worked so hard to make sure every single step was right,” Ms. Flatto told us, “And tonight it’s finally happening. I feel really relieved.”
Also in attendance was the theater’s eponym David H. Koch and his wife Jennifer Koch and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and his wife Nancy Kissinger. As Mr. Kissinger made his way out onto the balcony, he told The Observer he didn’t know what to expect for the evening. “We’re great ballet fans,” he said. “But I have never seen the Paris ballet company.”
At 8 p.m., as the Lincoln Center bell sounded signaling guests to find their seats, the formally dressed crowd filed out of the balcony. The Observer caught actor and renowned dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov on his way to an orchestra level seat with a few friends. “We had a glass of wine before, which is important,” he told us. “So far so good.”
The curtain rose over hushed audience members, as the company launched into an all French program and fell to a standing ovation and even a few cries of “Bravo!” Three pieces, Suite en Blanc, L’arlésienne and Boléro, were performed, each composed and choreographed by French artists. After the two-hour show concluded, guests of the gala gathered on the first floor of Lincoln Center for dinner.
Ballet master Laurent Hilaire joined our table to decompress after what appeared to have been a somewhat nerve-wracking two hours. He told The Observer over the first course of crab cake and asparagus that he was satisfied with the results of the evening.
“I was really stressed and I’m quite happy,” Mr. Laurent said. “As a ballet master sometimes I cannot accept a mistake, but what is most important is just to be present and to give the best we can at the right moment.”
Mr. Laurent added that they prepared vigorously for the show, and when he sat down in the audience he was ready to accept the results. “You never know before the show what’s going to happen,” he said. “You built the ballet, but there’s only one moment for the show. You cannot miss it.”
“My work is to prepare people and after that they just have to get the choreography and be alive in it,” he told The Observer. “And for me, that is what they did tonight.”
Follow Michele Narov via RSS.