It was, you could say, extravagant -- the kind of night Washington society revels in.
To usher in its new season, the Washington Ballet held a "Golden Gala" fund-raiser last night consisting of dinners hosted at 25 homes, and afterward, at the Four Seasons Hotel, dancing, gambling (you can do it when it's for charity), drinking and marathon dessert-eating.
There were women in showgirl costumes and waiters proffering champagne. Gifts ranging from furs to Porthault linen were to be auctioned. There were eight blackjack tables, two roulette wheels and two craps tables. You couldn't win cash at the gambling tables last night. Instead, any amount won was credited toward an auction bid. In another room were 30 different desserts on buffet tables that looked like a sweets addict's heaven.
"There's plenty of opportunity to get fat here," said Four Seasons manager Seamus McManus as he toured the buffet tables laden with everything from chocolate mousse to mocha cake, from cherry and cheese torte to sauerkraut and apple torte. In the middle were solid chocolate ballet shoes on a platter. "Ron Fusec, our pastry chef, has been working on and off all week on the chocolate shoes," McManus said.
McManus estimated the food alone cost the Washington Ballet about $20 a person or, considering 470 guests at the gala, nearly $10,000. Guests paid $200 a person for the dinner and the dancing afterward.
"It's an exciting evening for us," said Mary Day, artistic director of the Washington Ballet, who just returned with her company from a European tour. "We had a wonderful reception from the audiences," she said, "but the critics sliced us down the middle."
The company opens here on Thursday night without Amanda McKerrow, the prize-winning ballerina who just signed a contract with the American Ballet Theatre.
"We'll always miss her," said Day. "We miss everyone who leaves. Amanda is a very special person. But we'll just have to raise more Amandas. She is a rare talent, but we have some special talent coming up."
And, periodically, those special talents from her company wafted by. In their slinky evening clothes, they slipped easily through the room past the bustling yards of taffeta worn by other guests. They were exempted from the $200-a-head charge. ("They give enough," said board member Victor Shargai.) Champagne was not a new taste to them. "They danced in Reims," said Alton Miller, the ballet's managing director, referring to the city in the Champagne district of France, "and they bought champagne at gas stations."
They also ate, scoffing at the notion that dancers can't eat and stay thin. "It's a myth," said Sandra Bronfman, standing next to Michele Piquet.
Nearby was the company's star choreographer, Choo San Goh, sporting a narrow red bow tie and the braces he has worn on his teeth for three months.
"My God, what a pretty crowd," said Shargai.
Shargai had had little time for dinner: "I went to seven dinner parties to thank the hosts and the hostesses. I had a nut at one, a little salmon at another, some champagne at another, a little vodka." He had fortified himself with two glasses of skim milk beforehand.
The dinner parties were hosted by various ambassadors or friends of the Washington Ballet. But probably none of them made the entrance that Rose Marie Bogley did at the dinner she hosted for 16. She had arrived in town late, dressed in her riding clothes and carrying a trophy that her horse, Speculation, had just won at the Madison Square Garden National Horse Show in New York. She had been riding another horse that also belonged to her. That horse came in second. "I was in Madison Square Garden at 5 o'clock. I had a driver waiting, I got the 6 o'clock shuttle and I walked in my house at 7:30." She managed to change quickly into black velvet, but said she still had to go back to New York to get the rest of her clothes.
At midnight, guests at the Four Seasons continued to nibble at the desserts and crowded feverishly around the craps tables. The women modeling the fox fur coats, still standing in place, took a break from their smiles and chatted with each other.