The Freer/Sackler Some Enchanted Evening soiree on Thursday night was a glamorous gala, and also something of a well-timed shutdown roast, with the help of Alec Baldwin. The theme was yoga—Baldwin’s wife, Hilaria, is a yoga instructor—and the actor said that while they toured the associated art exhibition they had an idea for a yoga position for Congress that could prevent future government shutdowns. “What did you think was the best idea, honey?” he asked her as they shared a microphone on stage at the Mellon Auditorium. “The bed of nails,” she said. “It’s a good idea, right?” The audience applauded. The Baldwins, new parents, said their daughter was home “practicing happy baby pose.” Hilaria added, “There will be no tummy time or cobra pose while we’re here in Washington because there’s too many cobras here already.”
Originally the dinner was scheduled to be held among the works of the new exhibition, “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,” at the Freer/Sackler Gallery on Independence Avenue. When the gallery was closed by the shutdown, the venue was changed to the Mellon Auditorium across the Mall. Even though the shutdown ended early Thursday, it was too late for the dinner to be switched back to its home base—but no one seemed to mind. The Mellon was done up in shades of cinnamon, gold, and green, and everywhere you stepped there were limber yoga practitioners—courtesy of Lululemon—performing poses with the impenetrable focus of mimes or guards at Buckingham Palace.
Still, the shutdown was mentioned in just about every principal speech. In his remarks, Sackler Gallery director Julian Raby praised the staff of the Mellon “for their hospitality and flexibility as we navigated the shoals of the federal government shutdown,” which he called “the tragi-comedy of the last few weeks.” He said he had to remind himself “never to use the C word: challenge. Instead I’ve had to learn how to purse my lips and say O. Not as in Oh, dear, but as in opportunity”—the opportunity to swap his gallery for the columned Mellon ballroom. “Look around you. The splendor of this place makes me think of the fall of the Roman Empire.” He paused for a beat. “I’m not referring to the events of the last few weeks.” He asked everyone, in the spirit of yoga, to take a moment to close their eyes and inhale deeply, and the room fell silent. “Now, what did you see?” he asked. He said he hoped it was India, which plays a major role in the exhibition, the first of its kind in the world. The works include stone yogis from a tenth-century temple and numerous folios from the first illustrated manuscript of yogic postures.
Wayne Clough, the outgoing secretary of the Smithsonian, had his own shutdown joke. “Yesterday I called Speaker Boehner and I said, ‘Tomorrow we’re supposed to open a fabulous exhibition on yoga,’ and Boehner said ‘Wayne, I had no idea. Of course, we’ll end the shutdown.” Noting that various movie and TV productions had filmed at the Mellon Auditorium over the years prompted Clough to land one more: “The past few weeks felt like a bad episode of West Wing.”
The evening’s benefactor, Dame Jillian Sackler, came onstage after Clough, imploring “Wayne, don’t leave us.” She also announced that the gallery, named after her late husband, Arthur, would reopen to the public on Friday.
The Baldwins were the stars of the evening, and graciously chatted and posed for photographs with guests. Sally Quinn scored a particularly long stretch of time with them. What were they talking about? Chris Matthews. Baldwin hosts a long-running interview podcast, Here’s the Thing, which has been made into a TV talk show on MSNBC, Up Late With Alec Baldwin. Baldwin told Quinn he would be interviewing Matthews on Friday and he needed some guidance on what to ask the Hardball host. Quinn told him, “All you have to do is introduce him and he’s off and running.”
The food complemented the theme of yoga and transformation. Some of the cocktail canapés were vegan, and the dinner menu featured many vegetarian options. In the kitchen was former Top Chef contestant Floyd Cardoz, who created a menu of Indian breads, Goan spiced crabcakes with tamarind and pumpkin, tandoori paneer with apple potato chaat, and an entrée of oat and quinoa pilaf with smoked eggplant, potatoes, Kerala-style braised vegetables, and optional spiced rack of lamb. Dessert was vanilla bean kulfi with peaches.
The guests did not perform yoga positions, at least not that we could see. We half wondered whether Baldwin would strike a pose onstage (as he did at a Kennedy Center event a while back), but no, not on this night. But he admitted, “I don’t do a lot of yoga.” Pointing to Hilaria, he said, “She is the yoga presence in our house. I write more letters by hand than I do hours of yoga.”