By Alesandra Dubin Posted October 13, 2009, 6:20 PM EDT
LOS ANGELES The Alfred Mann Foundation's annual fund-raising dinner moved West this year while looking to the East for its design inspiration. The gala dinner for the medical research foundation moved across town from recent downtown venues like Vibiana and the Millennium Biltmore hotel to the Santa Monica airport's Hangar 8—and took design and theme inspiration from China. Alfred Mann's wife, Claude Mann, who is also the foundation's chairperson for gifting and development, oversaw the event, tapping Poko Event Productions to produce it.
A set piece reminiscent of a Chinese temple beckoned guests into the cocktail area, where about 300 people sipped drinks served at illuminated bars decorated with dragon designs and browsed silent auction wares that included jewelry, art, and technology. Afterward, Poko's Inna Poncher banged a gong that signaled the beginning of dinner, and guests moved into the main party space in the hangar. Around the perimeter, projections showing various images evocative of China's landscape and imagery blanketed the walls, and rotated throughout the evening.
On tabletops, tiny lanterns hung from bamboo shoots in centerpieces. Lazy Susans allowed for family-style service of a multicourse meal from An Catering that included the An family's secret-recipe garlic noodles, port wine-glazed short ribs, Chilean sea bass with pineapple ginger sauce, flambé orange chicken, sauteed Asian vegetables, and vegetarian fried rice. Custom fortune cookies served with dessert included messages like “Debbie Allen says, 'Use your head and live in your heart.'” (Allen was the gala's M.C.)
A live auction followed, and Alfred Mann and David Hankin, C.E.O. of the Alfred Mann Foundation for Scientific Research, presented the evening's awards to recipients including Leeza Gibbons (who was also honored earlier the same day at an event for Gay & Lesbian Elder Housing). A varied entertainment lineup included dancers from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, performers from the Cirque du Soleil show Ka in Las Vegas, and a short set from Michael Bolton to end the night.