SF Ballet’s Opening Gala is Ever Magical

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The gorgeous tablescapes at gala
The gorgeous tablescapes at gala

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography

Waking up the day after the San Francisco Ballet’s 84th opening night gala, we feel a little like Clara in the Nutcracker. Did all of that magic really happen last night? However, unlike the classic story ballet, last evening’s events really did happen. At 5 p.m. City Hall opened its doors to SF’s most glamorous dance patrons. Using stunning florals and opulent lighting, event designer J. Riccardo Benavides transformed the building into a gorgeous backdrop for a swanky soirée.  The space was filled with round and rectangular tables—the circular tables were swathed in golden cloth, while the longer thin tables were covered in mirrors. All of the dining chairs were gold with Tiffany blue cushions. Tiffany & Co. was the gala’s premiere sponsor, so the color was expertly incorporated into the decor. The chargers were robin’s egg blue with a gilded gold design and the place cards, handwritten in swirly silver pen, were also Tiffany’s signature color. The Prosecco and cocktails flowed as the elegant crowd mingled.

Avé Seltsam
Avé Seltsam

Photo Credit: Devlin Shand for Drew Altizer Photography

Tiffany’s jewels glittered on many a guests’s ears, arms, and necks. The night’s hostess, gala chair Avé Seltsam, clad in a Karen Caldwell princess dress reminiscent of the look worn by Cinderella, wore over $500,000 worth of Tiffany’s jewelry including a bow cuff and platinum and diamond necklace. Star ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan, in a sleek black-and-silver Tom Ford number, was also adorned by Tiffany’s. She wore a stunning soleste ring in platinum with diamonds and a tanzanite stone. Everywhere you looked there was a different ball-gown clad social. There was Deepa Pakianathan in burgundy satin, Clara Shayevich in white lace, Belinda Berry in peach sequins, and Brenda Zarate in custom turquoise Major Obsessions. Many women opted for long-sleeved dresses to ward off the chill of the evening. Allison Speer looked gorgeous in a black long-sleeved floral-printed Andrew Gn gown. Charlotte Schultz covered up in a nude number with gold sequins. Mary Gonsalves Kinney looked to the orient in a chinoiserie print fitted La Perla dress with teal collar. Perhaps the most eye-catching looks were worn by Komal Shah (in a frothy strapless orange confection by Monique Lhuillier), Dr. Carolyn Chang (in a black Sophie Theallet look with a gold peplum fringe skirt), and Yuka Uehara (in a black and gold romper with painted cape that she designed). A quartet of trumpeters in red satin cummerbunds announced the dinner by playing part of Swan Lake.

A bird's eye view of the dinner
A bird’s eye view of the dinner

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography

The meal, which was planned by dining chair Meg Ray, started with a composed salad of crisp mini carrots, shaved beets, grapefruit gems, and a ball of farmer’s cheese gilded with gold leaf. The second course was a delicious scallop-and-prawn crusted salmon on a bed of creamy pureed kohlrabi, a decadent citrusy beurre blanc was poured table side to bathe the entire dish. Dessert was an incredibly light goat cheesecake with raspberry sauce and a dark chocolate straw. Folie a Deux wines—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—were poured alongside the dinner. Afterward, the 1000 guests headed out the back exit of City Hall and crossed the street—which was shut down by police for the occasion—for the main event, the night’s performance.

Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuan Yuan Tan

Photo Credit: Devlin Shand for Drew Altizer Photography

The company’s artistic director, Helgi Tomasson, curated a selection of inspiring dances. The first piece displayed a fresh new generation of talent. Myles Thatcher, a member of the corp and a burgeoning choreographer, staged his fellow corp member Natasha Sheehan and soloist Angelo Greco in Foragers. Sheehan is just a senior in high school, but with legs for days and a remarkable gracefulness, she’s set to be a star as big as Tan. While the first ballet showed the company’s future, the second dance highlighted its strong past. Mature principal, Lorena Feijoo, a Cuban dancer who joined the company 18 years ago, performed a beautiful pas de deux with Wei Wang. Later principals Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham shined in a modern piece, choreographed specifically for the gala by Trey McIntyre. Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger” was the first song to the trio of dances that made the viewer wish every ballet was set to classics tunes from the 60s. But just when you think nothing can beat a contemporary ballet, Tomasson stuns the crowd with a spectacular classical piece that had its world premiere in 1932. Flames of Paris, with Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro, clad in red, white, and blue, was sensational. Domitro is a formidable talent whose dazzling leaps caused more than one audience member to swoon. After the intermission came Benjamin Millepied’s The Chairman Dances, another piece that was commissioned specifically for the gala, that starred Maria Kochetkova, Carlo di Lanno, and members of the cord. Joseph Walsh danced a lively solo to the Andrew Sisters‘s “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Tan danced a lyrical and moving pas de deux with Aaron Robinson before the grand finale, an ensemble performance of George Balanchine’s Diamonds.

Carolyn Chang and Komal Shah
Carolyn Chang and Komal Shah

Photo Credit: Devlin Shand for Drew Altizer Photography

When the show was over, the rain was coming down hard, but it didn’t matter because there were oversized black golf umbrellas for every guest to use while walking back to City Hall for the after party. The space had been transformed into a more lounge-like setting with a live band in one room, a DJ in another, and a silent disco upstairs. Stations set with shrimp cocktail, salami, meatballs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and sushi, from McCall’s catering, ensured that none of the late night revelers went hungry. The highlight of the after party was getting to see the dancers join the fun. Judging from their smiles, and the dazzled faces of the guests, it’s going to be a sensational season at the SF Ballet. Bravo!

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