This time last year, a sinister tempest by the name of Sandy wreaked havoc on New York. This year, amidst unseasonably pleasant weather, another storm brewed at Lincoln Center, where the American Ballet Theatre launched its fall season with a memorable gala and the world premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Tempest,” based on Shakespeare’s tale of sorcery and revenge.
For the occasion, the promenade of the David H. Koch Theater was transformed into a violent sea, complete with seven three-story high cyclones, a breathtaking mural of ominous clouds and choppy waves that spanned the foyer’s length, flashes of lightning and rolling thunder.
“It’s about resilience,” said top New York event producer Bronson van Wyck, who is responsible for the design, when asked about the coincidental timing. “We’re not afraid of a storm.” Certainly not one so whimsical and benevolent.
Julia Koch, along with the well-known fashion columnist Hamish Bowles, recruited her longtime friend van Wyck (they’re both from Arkansas) to conceptualize and oversee the gala. “It’s beyond my imagination,” she said.
Koch and her husband, the theater’s namesake, are trustees of ABT but this was the first time they got to see the company perform on this stage. After nearly four decades away, the event marked something of a homecoming for the troupe.
The evening’s performance opened with George Balanchine’s exuberant 1947 neoclassical work “Theme and Variations,” followed by “Aftereffect,” a suite for eight men choreographed by ABT principal dancer Marcelo Gomes who then took the stage as Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, in Ratmansky’s visually stunning, poetic interpretation of the Bard.
“I’d much rather dance,” said Gomes with a laugh at the reception when asked which of the two responsibilities he prefers. “The choreography is out of your hands. It’s like your baby and you release it into the world.” Several weeks ago, Gomes sprained his ankle and it was unclear whether he would be able to perform at all. “So this is a third triumph!” he said.
For attendee Sigourney Weaver, the highlight of the evening was “seeing three such distinctive programs, all exquisitely performed.” The actress admitted to being a failed dancer, having been kicked out of ballet as a child, “probably because I was too tall.” Looking around the hall, she called the décor simply “awesome.”
“The idea is that it feels like an experience and not a sculpture,” said van Wyck, who counts “The Tempest” as his favorite Shakespeare play but said he was also inspired by the X-Men character Storm. “Sometimes you walk into a party and it’s beautiful but it’s not breathing.”
Continuing the ship-at-sea theme, navigational aids, like telescopes and maps, were scattered around the tables and hurricanes—the sweet, drinkable kind—were passed around. “He knows how to translate the cultural experience of the evening into the party space,” said the legendary publicist Peggy Siegal of van Wyck.
Of course, a party is also about having fun, which seemed to be the case as guests packed the dance floor past midnight—not at all a given at such affairs. Apparently, under the swirling masses, the dark and magical spell of “The Tempest” lingered.
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