Alvin Ailey Gala Looks to its Dancers for Inspiration

For its annual Washington gala, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater took a cue from its dancers, with flowing, energetic decor.

The gala's brightly hued table settings

Photo: Colin Loughlin for BizBash

The centerpiece of the annual Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater gala, held Tuesday night at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, was, of course, a four-part showcase of various pieces by Ailey and other choreographers that showed off the company’s 30 dancers in the venue's opera house. But the celebrations before and after carried on the group's energy and movement, with decor details inspired by the troupe's performances.

The evening began with a small private cocktail party thrown by the gala's sponsor, the Atlanta-based Southern Company, and organized by executive services coordinator Cathy Evans, in a side lounge of the opera house for some 60 of the company's V.I.P. guests. With the firm's logo emblazoned on the wall and orange and yellow lighting throughout, the space featured small tables with playful centerpieces that combined delicate red feathers and tall branches. A large table offering small bites of spring rolls and shrimp and sausage kebabs helped tide guests over for the two-and-a-half-hour performance.

After the program, the black-tied crowd headed to the roof terrace (accessible by only one group of elevators, which caused a backup of the 430 guests). Awash in pink and orange lighting, the space aimed to complement the energy of the performance with help from an 11-piece jazz group from Free Spirit Band. The evening’s cocktail, dubbed the “Firebird” (a gin and pomegranate martini from liquor sponsors Tanqueray and Diageo), was a tribute to the dance troupe's first performance of the night, a 1970 piece choreographed by Maurice Béjart that had its Washington debut at the Tuesday gala.

“The main guiding principle behind this event is that the company itself is so terrific and so vibrant that we want to extend that performance in the room,” said Carolyn Peachey, president of Campbell Peachey & Associates, who planned the night with Quay Whitlock, Alvin Ailey's director of development and special events. “We try to make it a hot room, rather than go for something sedate.”

Describing the orange and purple tablecloths, Peachey said, “We always choose bright colors. D.C. Rental always finds us a fabric that hasn’t been used before.” She added that Suzanne Codi created the exploding blossom and orchid centerpieces with the idea of dance and movement in mind.

During the first course (a salad with caramelized pears, blue cheese, and walnuts that was preset for hungry guests), Alvin Ailey artistic director Judith Jamison spoke to the crowd, welcoming the honorary co-chairs—Mayor Adrian Fenty and his wife, Michelle—and noting that the prominent couple’s first date was at an Ailey performance.

By evening's end, the band was in full force, with Ailey dancers enjoying the celebration and guests just trying to keep up.

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