News & Politics

The Roaring ’20s and the Can-Can Came to Washington With the Hemingway in Paris Ball (Photos)

The head of the Washington Ballet board called it the “most successful gala” in the ballet’s history.

During the can-can, dancers invited guests onto the dance floor with them, though no high kicks were required. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

The Washington Ballet added some refreshing excitement to the crowded spring social
scene on Friday night with the Hemingway in Paris Ball at the Library of Congress.
The event channeled Paris in the 1920s, with dancers in plumes and satin petticoats
performing a stunning can-can; an authentic French meal of bouillabaisse followed
by salad and cheese courses, with French wines; and after-dinner dancing few could
resist. If a guest started to flag, all he or she had to do was step to the side for
a made-on-the-spot chocolate crepe and more Champagne. The only thing Hemingway would
have missed were cats.

Perhaps kittens rather than cats, tiny ballet dancers greeted formally dressed guests
as they climbed the handsome stairs of the Italian Renaissance-style Library. The
petite dancers, students from THEARC in Anacostia, twirled, pliéd, and curtsied, while
behind them an accordionist set the mood with French cabaret songs. Add to that the
hues of twilight, a breathtaking view of the Capitol building, and the spring air,
and voilà! A good beginning to an even better party.

Inside the Great Hall, waiters passed silver trays with authentic ’20s-era drinks:
gin martinis, Sidecars, and a Pernod and bitters concoction. These and other drinks
were organized by Philip Greene, author of the book
To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion.
Behind the bar, bartenders uncorked chilled French Champagne as fast as possible,
replenishing flutes in outstretched hands.

The ball was black-tie, of course, but some of the guests took it a stylish step further.

Alison Paley, for example, in cream silk and strands of pearls, had a flapper flair.
Jane Harman’s sequined sheath suggested Gatsby and Picasso. One man appeared to be in spats.
The showstoppers, though, were the can-can dancers, who sashayed down the stairs and
into the hall, quite literally kicking the party into a higher gear. They squealed,
they twirled, they jumped in the air and landed in splits on the floor—they even pulled
unsuspecting guests from the sidelines to come dance with them, no kicking or splits

Between the dancing and dinner there was only a brief pause for remarks from the ball’s
co-chairs, Motion Picture Association of America president
Chris Dodd and his wife,
Jackie Clegg Dodd, who also had their young daughters, Grace and Christina, with them. Christina was
on crutches, “not from ballet,” her mother said, “but from a flying leap over some
pillows.” Dodd, a former senator, said chairing the ball was the “first time in 38
years I was raising money for something other than my campaigns.”
Sylvia A. de Leon, head of the ballet’s board, called the evening “the most successful gala in the
history of the Washington Ballet.” With them under a spotlight on the stairs was artistic
Septime Webre, who choreographed “Hemingway:
The Sun Also Rises

opening next month at the Kennedy Center.

At dinner, served upstairs on the mezzanine level, the tables were named after Parisian
streets; some had views not only of gorgeous flower arrangements (roses, tulips, hydrangeas)
but also the Capitol dome in the distance through tall glass doors and windows. It’s
brave to serve bouillabaisse to 380 people, but Susan Gage Caterers pulled it off,
despite the challenges of preparing the meal in back corridors and rooms of the ancient
library. The fish stew was followed by a salad of watercress and endive with vinaigrette,
and then a plate of French cheeses served with lavender sel gris and fruit. Between
courses, guests could take advantage of a uniquely Washingtonian perk: climbing the
flight of stairs to the balcony that provides a panoramic view of the esteemed Reading

At my table I got to know
Gouri Mirpuri, wife of the Singaporean ambassador. They arrived from Indonesia only six months
ago, and she is still settling in. With her was a good friend, the choreographer
Astad Deboo, who was visiting from India. He has collaborated with the Bolshoi Ballet, Pino Bausch
of the Wuppertal Dance Company, Pink Floyd, and DC’s own Gallaudet University. Others
at the table included Dr.
Vicken Poochikian,
James Spellman,
Irene Roth, South Korean artist
Sunhee Kim, and
Annie Totah.

As soon as guests finished their cheese course, they started filing back down the
marble stairs to the Great Hall, where they crowded onto the dance floor. DJ Pitch
One did the spinning. In the middle of the swirl was DC City Council member
Jack Evans and his wife,
Michele. Evans helped earmark hundreds of thousands of dollars for the ballet and its work
with THEARC, the Anacostia-based DC arts education center. We asked Evans whether
his plan to run for mayor is still on track. It is. Expect an announcement in the
next weeks, as soon as he finds the right location to officially throw his hat into
the ring.