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By Roxanne Roberts
Monday, December 13, 2004; Page C03

After the Dancing, a Night at the Ball

Clowns, soldiers and rat kings prancing around Washington, which could mean only one thing -- a congressional Christmas party? No, no, no. We're talking about the Washington Ballet's new production of "The Nutcracker," which opened Friday night at the Warner Theatre, followed by a high-spirited holiday ball.

After more than 40 years, the ballet's old "Nutcraker" was due for an extreme makeover. Artistic director Septime Webre set the ballet in 19th-century Georgetown with lots of historic touches -- including a non-leaping celebrity cameo Friday by lawyer Vernon Jordan as Frederick Douglass. "I can dance, but not on my toes," he said.

Mary Ourisman and Vernon Jordan unwind at the "Nutcracker" opening-night party. (Rebecca D'Angelo - For The Washington Post)

The reviews were uniformly over-the-moon, especially from the proud parents who watched their dancing darlings jete in the limelight. "I think it was an enchantment," said Mary Haft, whose 12-year-old daughter, Laura, appeared as one of ballet's party guests.

After the performance, 460 ballet patrons -- including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers, D.C. Council member Jack Evans and several ambassadors -- gathered to celebrate at Mellon Auditorium, which was decorated by ball chairwoman Mary Ourisman with red roses, nutcrackers and Christmas tree centerpieces. "I'm a big fan of Septime Webre -- he's put this ballet on the map," said Ourisman, who decorated herself in a regal pale green Monique Lhuillier gown and a drop-dead emerald, sapphire and diamond necklace.

The Sugar Plum Fairy ain't got nothing on this girl.

Dems' Frank Talk About Mankiewicz

Mike Staebler and Frank Mankiewicz Thursday night. (Rebecca D'Angelo - For The Washington Post)
Thursday night the Capital Hilton looked like a reunion of the 1972 Democratic National Convention, without the miniskirts or bell-bottoms. More than 300 donkey-loving Dems (and a few friendly Republicans) sloshed through a downpour to roast, toast and honor 80-year-old Washington institution Frank Mankiewicz. Liberal leaders George McGovern, Ted Kennedy and Sandy Berger -- along with media pals Bob Edwards, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson -- shared their interpretations of one of the grandmasters of spin, whose extensive résumé includes stints as the late Robert Kennedy's press secretary and McGovern's campaign manager.

As a loyal Democrat, Kennedy made sure to roast the Republican Party. "What Frank learned from 'Citizen Kane' is that tabloid journalism -- like the poor, if the GOP has its way -- will be with us forever," he said. Mankiewicz's screenwriter father, Herman, penned the Oscar-winning script for the film.

McGovern had the unenviable task of following the Massachusetts senator, but he's been up against tougher problems. He told the crowd that during the 1972 presidential race, reporters asked pal Mankiewicz if the seemingly angelic McGovern had any sins. Mankiewicz replied that he did . . . but they were classified. "That was Frank's only mistake on the campaign, because the voters who thought I wasn't bad enough got Richard Nixon," said McGovern.

Atypically, the guest of honor spent the night listening instead of talking -- but he was smiling. The night raised $200,000 for the newly established Frank Mankiewicz Scholarship in Politics and Journalism at Columbia University.

Finding the Good in Goodbye

Gail Scott and Marvin Hamlisch have a word with honoree Alma Powell, center, at Friday's party. (Rebecca D'Angelo - For The Washington Post)
Friday's luncheon honoring Alma Powell was the happiest farewell party ever, especially since she's not really leaving. More than 100 women came to the home of Rima Sabah, wife of the Kuwaiti ambassador, to celebrate Powell's return to private life after four years as "Mrs. Secretary of State," as one friend put it.

"Alma has disarmed, charmed and conquered Washington and the world," Sabah told the guests. Powell was lauded by composer Marvin Hamlisch, who crooned a special tribute, and everyone brought children's gifts for one of Powell's favorite charities, Martha's Table. "Whenever I don't feel good, I go down there," Powell said.

With Laura Thomas

© 2004 The Washington Post Company