What: The Harman Center for the Arts Annual Gala hosted by the Shakespeare Theatre Company. The evening included a cocktail reception, a series of performances based on different interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, and “A Night in Verona”-themed dinner and dancing.
Where: Reception and performance at Sidney Harman Hall followed by dinner and dancing at the National Building Museum.
When: October 27, 2008.
Ticket Price: $1,000 for the basic ticket, which provides a seat at the performances and a place-setting at dinner. For a donation of $50,000, patrons received a table for 12 at the dinner, premium seats at the performances, invitations to the pre-gala reception hosted by the British ambassador and his wife at their residence, and season tickets to the 2008-2009 Shakespeare Theater Company season.
Who: Many glittering members of Washington’s social elite attended the gala in their best tuxedos, ball gowns, and jewels. Mayor Fenty was there, as well as Queen Noor of Jordan and ambassador couples from Lebanon, Yemen, Oman, Morocco, Syria, and Egypt. Barbara Harrison of NBC news and Chris and Kathleen Matthews were present, as was NBC’s David Gregory, who was seen grooving on the dance floor. Past and current government officials also showed their support including Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and former Clinton chief of staff Thomas McLarty.
Food and drink: Meager appetizers circulated during the cocktail reception, but potato chips were available at the bar, as were small vegetables stuffed with an ambiguous mousse of varying hues. Beef on a toothpick floated by, but was hard to procure in the space packed with people. Thankfully, the bar was accessible on all sides.
After performances based on interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, guests braved the cold and rain to go to the National Building Museum for the gala. Waiters were ready with small cups of tomato soup and a pesto panini for dipping. The three-course sit-down dinner included a rich and creamy butternut squash risotto and Amish chicken with a trio of impressive vegetable sides: a tomato-and-goat-cheese tart, a neat little package of wax beans, and a stack of butternut squash and portobello mushrooms. Dessert, called “Le Kit Kat,” included a scoop of vanilla ice cream with an airy chocolate cake. Representatives from Malibu Rum passed around glasses of rum-and-Coke and shots.
The pre-dinner performances were interspersed with an awards ceremony, in which members of the arts community who have done important work with Romeo and Juliet were honored. Honorees were Chita Rivera, who played Anita in the original Broadway cast of West Side Story; master-in-chief of the New York City Ballet and choreographer of its Romeo and Juliet performance, Peter Martin; and Rennie Harris, founder of Puremovement—a hip-hop dance company—and choreographer of Rome and Jewels, a hip-hop interpretation of Shakespeare’s classic.
Shakespeare Theatre Company artistic director Michael Kahn hosted the gala performance. First, cast members from all four of the company’s Romeo and Juliet productions recited the play’s prologue. Energetic and entertaining dance excerpts from West Side Story followed, then soprano Elizabeth Futral sang “Je Veux Vivre” from the opera Romeo et Juliette and “Somewhere” from West Side Story. A ballet interpretation of Romeo and Juliet came next, followed by classical violinist Joshua Bell, who played a song from West Side Story. For a grande finale, dancers performed selections from Rome and Jewels, which brings Romeo and Juliet to the urban street life. Music was provided by two DJs and a rapper. The dancers used a combination of acrobatics, break dancing, and hip-hop to re-enact the play and the legendary hatred between the Montagues and Capulets.
Scene: The cocktail reception was buzzing as men in tuxedos and women in floor-length gowns air kissed and exchanged small talk. While many women stuck with traditional black-tie attire, the art-appreciative nature of the crowd meant that some ensembles featured ruffles, feathers, sequins, and unusual arrangements of fabric. After the performance, guests walked outside to find a man in a jester’s outfit juggling cones, and white mini-buses were ready to transport them to the party. For those who walked, there was a red carpet that led from Harman Hall to the National Building Museum, and belly dancers with glow-in-the-dark hula-hoops shook their hips next to the door.
Inside, floating white streamers and hundreds of white candles in glass vases made for a romantic scene. The lighting changed periodically from soft orange to pink to green, which gave the large space a warm, fairy-tale feel. Upon entering, a flamenco band and dance group entertained mingling guests as they found their tables and hit the bar. On a shiny, iridescent white dance floor, guests danced to recognizable tunes, but one pop-techno number emptied the floor of those over 30. The young and talented performers from West Side Story, Rome and Jewels, and the ballet flooded the dance floor and wowed the crowd with their skills, twirling, dipping, and shaking their hips with energy and passion. They continued dancing long after older couples trickled away.
Rankings: (see our explanations of ratings here)
Boldface names: 4 out of 5
Swankiness: 4 out of 5
Exclusivity: 4 out of 5
Food and drink: 4 out of 5
Total score: 16 out of 20