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First-Nighters Step Out in Style After Ballet

It isn’t every day that a guy gets the chance to play lead cockroach in a Broadway production of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” which is why Mikhail Baryshnikov, who always attends the opening-night gala when his American Ballet Theatre comes to San Diego, was not among those attending Monday’s post-performance bash at the U. S. Grant Hotel.

Christine Dunham, who danced the Odette/Odile role in the company’s brand-new production of “Swan Lake,” stood in successfully for the absent artistic director. Although she tried to tiptoe innocuously into the Grant’s Grand Ballroom, where about 230 supporters of the San Diego Performances presenting organization had arrived shortly after the final curtain at the Civic Theatre, Dunham found a welcoming committee stationed in the doorway.

The group consisted of six girls--all dancers, and all alumnae of the San Francisco Ballet’s local presentation of “The Nutcracker” last December--who served as junior hostesses in return for the opportunity to ambush Dunham. Armed with pens and ear-to-ear grins, they giggled excitedly as Dunham dutifully scribbled her autograph on their toe shoes.

Most guests may have been unaware of the fact, but dinner chairman Iris Strauss planned the buffet supper menu around the needs of Dunham and her fellow dancers.

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“I understand that they’re very hungry after they perform and have special needs, so I ordered plenty of carbohydrates,” said Strauss, whose menu included Scandinavian gravad lax salmon, roast veal and pasta salad. In specific reference to the performance, the kitchen whipped up a dessert of meringue swans stuffed, most unusually, with peanut butter mousse.

“The dancers add an aura, a glamour to the event, an electricity to the air that permeates everything, and I wanted to make sure they were well fed,” Strauss said.

“Each dancer adds a different dimension to the party,” said Linda Platt, who shared overall gala chairmanship duties with Sandy Levinson and who, in the interest of mingling, saw to it that a pair of dancers was assigned to each table. Platt and Levinson also tossed as much lavender into the table decor as it was capable of absorbing, as a tribute to the astonishing color that was used almost exclusively in the ballet’s first act. Fat lavender ribbons tied bags that held the commemorative T-shirts donated as party favors by Baryshnikov Bodywear, a division of San Diego’s Weekend Exercise Co.

The clothing firm, owned by Sandy and Arthur Levinson, fully underwrote the gala, the first major fund-raiser given for the benefit of San Diego Performances, the youthful presenting organization that is midway through its second year in show biz. Suzanne Townsend, founder of San Diego Performances, said: “Our goal is just to get a lot of people out to the ballet. We’re getting more and more support, and I don’t know a better vehicle for generating excitement than the American Ballet Theatre.”

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Townsend’s assessment of the draw generated by the American Ballet seemed hard to challenge, especially in light of the fact that more than 200 San Diegans agreed to return to a hotel ballroom after 11 p.m.--and in black tie on a Monday night. Even more surprising, there was no sensation of dine-and-dash in the air; most of the crowd seemed in a mood to linger over its meringue swans, and quite a few made more than one circuit of the dance floor.

The American Ballet dancers, energized by the performance and refueled by pasta salad, likewise took advantage of the sentimental standards offered up by the Dick Braun Orchestra.

The fur may fly at the Acatemy Awards, the centerpiece of the third annual Fur Ball, which will be given at the U. S. Grant Hotel on Friday, April 7, as a benefit for the San Diego Humane Society.

Morris the Cat and Spuds McKenzie have turned out for previous fur balls. This year, the top dog will be Alex, who helps sell suds and spread good will for the Stroh Brewing Co. Other pooches and felines will compete for votes in several categories, and the Humane Society expects that raw passions may be unleashed if the competition is close.

The event will commence at 6 p.m. and feature hors d’oeuvres, door prizes and dancing to Soul Patrol. The dress code calls for business attire. Tickets cost $20 a person. For further information, call the San Diego Humane Society.


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