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I may have described the dancers of American Ballet Theatre as “liquid magic” before. If I didn’t, I should have because, in my eyes, they are the greatest dancers in the world today. And my eyes have been on this now-dazzling company all the years since it was a still-struggling group, though, even then, blessed with wonderful dancers.

The late heiress, Lucia Chase, a passionate ballet devotee, was its primary financial source in those days and the famous set designer, the late Oliver Smith, was the greatest mentor of the company. It was Oliver who first introduced Jackie Onassis — who loved ballet with all her heart — to ABT, and she was the most loyal of its supporters from then on.

This story first appeared in the May 12, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

On Monday night, on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House, her daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the honorary chairman of the gala that marked the opening of ABT’s spring season, heard Kevin McKenzie, the company’s gifted artistic director, announce to the audience that, because of Jackie’s commitment, they would name their new school The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theater in her honor. Caroline, wearing a light gray cashmere sweater and a long skirt embroidered in silver beading, said even though her mother saw to it that she took dancing lessons at the School of American Ballet, “She completely failed in making me into a ballerina.” Maybe, but she made her into a great citizen and philanthropist who, by the way, now sends her own children to the School of American Ballet.

A splendid crowd turned out for the evening and more than $1.5 million was raised. What separates ABT from other dance companies is its incomparable cast of stars. The audience went wild when beautifully boneless Alessandra Ferri virtually floated across the stage in a pas de deux from “Manon” with Julio Bocca. Angel Corella drew gasps as he appeared to fly over the stage in “Caught,” an avant-garde piece choreographed by David Parsons, utilizing a flashing strobe light that made it appear as though he never touched the stage. Kevin McKenzie created a “Suite For Freddie” in honor of Frederic Franklin’s 90th birthday and the legendary dancer himself graced the stage, gently partnering Amanda McKerrow and Ashley Kuttle in this piece d’occasion. Violinist Sarah Chang, who at 23 is fast becoming a legend herself, played from a pedestal onstage as part of the “Carmen Fantasy” — in a sexy, crimson dress studded with thousands of brilliant beads — as seven pairs of dancers leaped and pirouetted to the music of Pablo de Sarasate. Jose Manuel Carreño was Adonis-like perfection in a solo from “Diana and Acteon,” and Nina Ananiashvili was an imperious Ice Queen in “Raymonda.” That beautiful married couple, Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, were in “Le Grand Pas de Deux,” choreographed by Christian Spuck, a comic piece that brought down the house. The corps de ballet in the lyric “La Bayadere” was, in a word, magnificent.

After the performance, the guests repaired to a vast, adjacent tent in Lincoln Center, decorated by Bill Tansey with oversize Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling and gigantic faux leaves towering 12 feet in the air. The walls were banked with 12-foot Versailles boxes, brimming with flowering apple blossoms. The tables were covered with lemon yellow linens and centered with masses of fragrant white peonies and chrome yellow and white cabbage roses. Bentley Meeker did the lighting in shades of fuchsia that flattered all the ladies and most of the men. It was a night to remember, remember and remember.

Also remember that the evening was underwritten by Gianfranco Ferré, Signature Bank and Cole Haan, because you cannot make all this fantasy and beauty happen without money. And that’s the bottom line.

Gianfranco Ferré, who makes beautiful dresses for beautiful people, was a co-chairman of the evening, along with Blaine Trump, who wore Ferré’s black-and-white, long beaded dress, made especially for her — a hit of the evening. CeCe Cord was in a black-and-nude illusion dress by Angel Sanchez. Lynda Carter was in a bottle green-and-black ballgown from Bergdorf Goodman with an emerald jewel dropping down her lovely bosom. Carroll Petrie was in a vintage white Mary McFadden column with an embroidered top and pearls the size of gum balls. Kelly Ripa chose a black dress and a black-and-white pattern shawl by Armani. Sloan Lindemann Barnett, who wore a cream-colored sheath with an enormous beaded red flower at the hip by Ferré, was a vice chairman of the gala, along with Tory Burch, in vintage Dior, and Susan Fales-Hill, in drifting black chiffon, also by Ferré. Nan Kempner, the chairman of the international committee, wore a white lace top by Valentino and a long, black, dotted swiss ballerina skirt by Chanel. Muffie Potter Aston wore a beige and beaded Badgley Mischka, and Cari Modine, a taupe column that she must have poured herself into or had her husband, Matthew Modine, do it for her. Princess Michael of Kent wore Ferré’s pale gray ballgown with a flowered scarf enveloping her lovely shoulders. Princess Firyal wore an emerald beaded top over a dazzling white and printed skirt and a few dazzling goodies on her wrist and ears. Another hit of the evening was the gorgeous halterneck dress by Christian Lacroix, worn by Anne Bass. Linda Bruckheimer was in head-to-toe Chanel. Emilia Fanjul Pfeifler wore Oscar de la Renta’s strapless cream-colored silk with a ruffle skirt made of what seemed like a hundred cream-colored flowers.

Gianfranco has said that “fashion is an exercise in awareness, attention and responsibility. It is also a dimension of fantasy, impulse, inventiveness and eccentricity. I believe that Vienna’s Life Ball represents the ideal situation for portraying fashion’s extraordinarily wonderful twofold soul.” Which is all by way of saying that on Friday, Gianfranco will stage an extraordinary fashion show at this party, which is one of the largest AIDS charity events in Europe. The show is the highlight of a spectacular open-air opening of Life Ball 2004 in front of Vienna’s impressive historic City Hall. At least 35,000 people from Austria and around the world are expected at the extravaganza, which will feature a mix of Ferré’s present and past collections. Personalities of all ilk — stars, artists and guests from all walks of life — are expected, and Sir Elton John will lead the pack. After the fashion show, an audience of 4,000 will celebrate inside City Hall and its courtyard, which will be transformed into richly decorated ballrooms and dance floors. A show and entertainment program with live performances by international attractions will entertain the guests all night long. Gianfranco, how do you do it?

***

In another part of the forest, Charlize Theron’s friends are saying that, not only have she and her handsome Irish boyfriend, Stuart Townsend, become quietly engaged, but they are secretly planning a summer wedding. Their two-year romance started on the set of the crime thriller, “Trapped,” and has blossomed since. The lovers are co-starring in the romantic drama “Head in the Clouds,” set in Europe in the Thirties, which also stars Penélope Cruz. The ladies’ period wardrobe is said to be exquisite. The movie will be released at the end of summer, just in time for them to let the paparazzi get the first shots of the newlyweds at their first movie premiere as Mr. and Mrs. That’s, of course, if it actually happens.

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