New York City
– The grand ballroom of the Plaza Hotel
was the site for an evening of celebration and exhilaration as guests in gowns and black tie gathered in support of one of the world's premiere African-American dance company, Evidence.
The Grace in Winter Silver Ball celebrated the 25th anniversary of a dance company that has had not only a profound influence on the artistic richness that is African-American dance, Evidence, A Dance Company has impacted the world of modern dance in general. The unique style and expression of this company leaves an indelible impression on its audiences throughout the world, an impression that is the unmistakable signature of it artistic director and founder, Ronald K. Brown
Along with board chairman Reginald Van Lee
of corporate sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton, Brown was honored at the gala celebrating the quarter century milestone of the ensemble that was founded in Brooklyn in 1985. A celebration indeed, as guests were treated to a performance of one of choreographer Brown's seminal works, "Grace."
The event was hosted by best selling author and award winning actress Victoria Rowell
of the soap opera "The Young and the Restless." Special musical guest performances by Grammy Award winner Jennifer Holliday
and jazz great Peven Everett
also punctuated the stellar awards ceremony.
The evening began with the usual red carpet excitement of flashing cameras and media interviews, as prominent members of New York's business, art and political community arrived in stunning attire and sparkling jewels. After posing for a group photo with the Board of Trustees, Chairman Van Lee explained the importance of the annual gala, "This gala represents a significant portion of our annual budget, probably a fourth if not more of our operating budget." Van Lee went on to note the growth of the company during the last decade, "I have chaired the board for 11 years and when I started 11 years ago we had a budget of $95,000 and today we have a one and a half million dollar budget, a balanced budget! I wouldn't have imagined then that we would be at the Plaza with 300 guests in such an elegant setting. It is just amazing to me."
Just recently coming on in July as executive director after 15 years as the creative producer for the Radio City Rockettes, Bruce Michael
explained his transition, "I have worked with non-profit dance companies for many years as a tour director. I actually had my own company before I went to Radio City and established tours for many dance companies that toured all across the country. This is my first time working on the inside of a beautiful company and this is a beautiful company."
Rhonda Ross Kendrick
Saycon Sengbloh with New York's First Lady Michelle Patterson. (Ann Watt)
, the daughter of Diana Ross
was in attendance, "I am relatively new to them, but I love their work and I have several friends who are big supporters so they keep me informed. I have been out of the loop, as I had a baby six months ago." A resident of Harlem, Ross expressed the importance of support for the arts, "Art is what a people are judged by, so I believe in supporting the important work of companies like Evidence."
Board member Leslie Mays
was glowing with pride, "It is a very special evening because it marks our anniversary of 25 years and we are so proud of the work that Ron and the dancers have done and achieved. We have an incredibly involved board, a very active board under the leadership of Reggie Van Lee. It is just a phenomenal evening for us and a great milestone for the company."
New York State's first lady was in attendance and Michelle Paterson
expressed the importance of support for the arts during the difficult economy, "Even though the economy is not doing well, it is nice to go to an event like this and see the work of the Evidence dance company and the joy of the people that are here tonight in support of that work."
The guests had further opportunity to support the company by way of an online auction with donations from the likes of Russell Simmons
, Moet Hennessey
, Tommy Hilfiger
and Van Cleff & Arpels
. A special, limited edition scarf designed in honor of Evidence's silver anniversary by Hermes
was also for sale in support of the company. The guests were presented with commemorative crystal bowls courtesy of Bloomingdales.
Bruce Michael, Leslie Mays, Zaid Abdul-Aleem, Gail Monroe-Perry, Joyce Mullins-Jackson, Reggie Van Lee, Joanne Hill, Andrea Hoffman, and Reginald Canal. (Ann Watt)
Royality was also in attendance at the gala with the presence of Prince Kunle Omilana
and Princess Keisha Omilana
of Nigeria. The princess was actually conducting interviews of her own for an upcoming documentary. After speaking with the princess, British pop star Estelle
chatted with us regarding her introduction to African-American dance, "This is my first time and I don't know very much about African-American dance companies beyond Alvin Ailey
, so this is my first time seeing Evidence and I am very excited." After we noted that renowned dancer and Alvin Ailey Artistic Director Judith Jamison
was in attendance Estelle
remarked, "I am so exited to meet her that I am shaking already."
Other noteworthy attendees included Anika Noni Rose
, Tamara Tunie
and Andrea DuBois
, Khephra Burns
and Susan Taylor
, Victoria Rowell
, chef Marcus Samuelsson
, clarinetist Anthony McGill
winner Lynn Whitfield
, Saycon Sengbloh
and Sahr Ngaujah
, stars of the Broadway musical "Fela", vice-chair Joyce Mullins-Jackson
, publisher Jocelyn Taylor
, Carla Harris
, Domna Stanton
and Alexandra Stanton
, Valerie Michel
, Brie Bythewood
, Monica Azare
, Rudy Chavez
, president of Baume & Mercier
, philanthropist Jean Shafiroff
, Debbie Bancroft
, Pamela Joyner
and Patricia Howell
, to name but a few.
Once in the ballroom, guests were treated to a breathtaking performance of Brown's "Grace" with special performances by Holliday and Everett. "Grace" was originally created for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in 1999 and became part of the Evidence repertoire in 2003.
Charming and funny, hostess Rowell, a former member of the American Ballet Theater herself, literally twirled her way through her hosting duties with panache and, yes, grace. Particularly entertaining was the repartee between the actress and auctioneer Patrick Tully
, who could easily have a second career as a stand-up comedian. Thanks to the charming combination, the live auction raised another $50,000 or so for the company.
Songbirds Jennifer Holliday and Estelle. (Ann Watt)
It was artistic director Brown who presented the award to fellow honoree Van Lee, who told the story of seeing Evidence the first time convinced that he, "a ballet lover," would not really be interested in Brown's modern dance company. Of course, after seeing the company at the Joyce Theater in lower Manhattan all that changed and Van Lee has proven to be a significant element in the continued success of Evidence. Brown himself dazzled the audience with an impromptu solo performance prior to bringing Van Lee to the stage.
It was Jamison who had the honor of presenting Brown with his award and in a touching tribute to her colleague she referenced their long association and his profound impact on both the world of dance and the African-American culture. She also took to the stage jokingly imitating Brown's unique dance movements, which resulted in both laughter and applause. Overcome with emotion, a tearful Brown thanked Jamison and the audience for their support and friendship.
Prior to a final tribute number by Holliday, everyone in the house, including Brown, was surprised by a performance of his "To Harm the Dangerous" by past and present members of Evidence. Many of the alumni had traveled across the country to honor their founder and mentor. It was nothing short of magical and a testament to both the artistic brilliance of the choreographer and the company he has created and nurtured for a quarter of a century.
Evidence, A Dance Company is not only a rare jewel
in the necklace of African-American dance; it is one of the world's truly distinct and imaginative dance companies whose luster will undoubtedly shine and endure for another 25 years and longer.
For more information go to www.evidencedance.com
Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com