PARTY RECAP : Tango was the name and dancing was certainly the game as more than 300 shone at last Saturday’s National Museum of Dance Gala, always one of Saratoga’s most impressive affairs.
Museum president and event chair Michele Riggi greeted guests on the red carpet-clad porch, flanked by flowering “trees,” the living statues dancing in the breeze. Like an Egyptian goddess, she wore an exquisite headpiece to complement her ethereal, ivory THEIA gown with gold embroidered spirals. Shortly after 7 p.m., the designer himself, Don O’Neill, arrived with his partner, Pascal Guillermie. O’Neill was awestruck to see Michele in his creation. And she wasn’t the only one wearing THEIA. Rebecca Beers, Lisa Barber, Michelle Funiciello, Amy Raimo, and even photographer Lisa Miller all donned their “Dons” for the occasion.
After posing for photos against a backdrop of camouflaged living statues, glamorous attendees moved into the museum foyer. Spotted amid the brilliant orange floral arrangements were Marcia White, Sylvia Kravis Phillips, Linda and Michael Toohey, Angelo and Kate Calbone, Marc and Jennifer Leidig, John and Mimi Carusone, and Don and Judy McCormack, with daughter Terry DeBrule and her husband Carl. Nancy Bambara, Joy Lucas, Ann Marie Flores, Rachel and Tommy Uccellini, Ray Bryan, Hillary Swithers and Walt Adams also mingled in the grand hall. Anton Person-Gazenbeek, the “Tango!” exhibit curator, and his partner Jody Gazenbeek turned heads in their artistic couture tuxedo jackets, and Allyson Byrne glowed in her black strapless gown, excited to announce halfway through her pregnancy that she’s having a girl. (Fourth time is the charm!)
Promptly at 8 p.m., museum facilities manager Jo Ambrosio began ringing her bell, encouraging the crowd to flow down yet another red carpet, from the museum to the transformed School of the Arts. Those reluctant to leave the cocktail party were delighted to discover the elaborate bar and lounge awaiting them thanks to the artistry of Michael Panza’s Fine Affairs. Breathtaking flowers, including full orange roses and Bird of Paradise, had been arranged at every turn by On Tai of Surroundings. In the dance studios, the main event stage, the scene was a smoldering orange. Floor candelabra were scattered around the room and striking pendent heliconia burst from centerpieces that topped table linens adorned with sequins and a ruffled soutaché trim. More living statues from World Gate Entertainment, this time posing as gold-tiled floor lamps, walked the dance floor.
The Mistress of Ceremonies, Michele herself, took the stage in her second THEIA of the evening, a black beaded gown embellished with steel blue herons taking flight. As diners enjoyed the heirloom tomato mozzarella salad preset by Mazzone Hospitality, Michele welcomed everyone, thanking all for their support, and extending special appreciation to lead sponsors Bill and Susan Dake, Gary and Nancy DiCresce, Neil and Jane Golub, Anthony Ianniello, and her husband Ron, with brother- and sister-in-law Vince and Patty Riggi.
She then shifted the spotlight to recognize Tony-award winning actress, dancer and singer, Chita Rivera. While unable to attend in person, Ms. Rivera was presented with the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding contributions to the arts.
A highlight of the gala is always the induction of new members to the Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame. This year, the honor was bestowed posthumously on noted ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Mark Morris, Artistic Director and Choreographer of the Mark Morris Dance Group, was also inducted in a private ceremony earlier that night, and Michele invited him to the dinner stage to accept the new bronze induction award inspired by Athena and designed by sculptor Alice Manzi. Mr. Morris’ lively remarks entertained the crowd, offering a glimpse into his determined and dedicated career, advancing dance at all levels through work worldwide.
Appropriately, the program is never complete without dance, and this year’s performance did not disappoint. Accomplished artist Leonardo Paz sung a stirring serenade before Olga Suarez joined him in a sensual tango. The pair is internationally known for presenting tango as an artistically complex dance and that they did!
Dancing on to the stage next were Ricardo Spain and Iraida Volodina, the new owners of Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Greenwich, Connecticut. Ballroom dance partners since 2007, they have won many American Rhythm Championship titles and were featured on “Dancing with the Stars.”
A brief interlude followed, allowing Michele to make her third and final change into a sleek black gown ending in a flurry of ruffles well-suited for tango. Taking the opportunity to stretch before dinner, Steve and Pam Worth wandered out to the bar. Also seen were Steve Snyder and Kim Burton, Wally and Sue Allerdice, Sam and Linda Palazzole, and Brien and Cindy Hollowood.
Angelo Mazzone quickly led his team to serve the classic surf and turf, followed by a mango lime ricotta parfait, a light, cool treat for the sultry night.
Dancing seems somewhat mandatory when at the National Museum of Dance Gala, but the T.S. Ensemble didn’t have to persuade anyone to start moving. Within minutes, the dance floor was bursting with energy. Museum director Raul Martinez dipped Kim Vanyo, and Congressman Paul Tonko cut in on Ron Riggi to spin Michele. Michael and Margie Rotchford, Greg and Suzanne Grande, and Brien and Cindy Hollowood also took to the floor. The living statues returned, bringing a whole new meaning to dancing with a lampshade, and as things heated up, Rochele Higgins and Roslyn Zecchini took their mother Michele’s lead in a conga line through the room.
Guests slowly trickled out around 11 p.m., taking with them a souvenir photo, courtesy of Imagine! Photography & Design, and memories of the lively, tango-inspired evening.