How This Gala Livened Up Its Floor Plan

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's 19th annual gala in Washington lit up the Terrace Level of the Kennedy Center with shades of green and a packed dance floor.

By Adele Chapin February 14, 2018, 7:46 AM EST

A fabric ceiling treatment drew inspiration from the props in Alvin Ailey's famous work, "Revelations."

Photo: Timothy Yantz

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Opening Night Gala
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It’s not every event in buttoned-up Washington, D.C., that packs a dance floor on a Tuesday night. But guests at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Opening Night Gala on February 6 stayed up late at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, dancing to a playlist from DJ D-Nice.

The 800-guest gala’s dinner and dancing followed a performance that kicked off the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s week-long engagement at the Kennedy Center. The 19th annual gala raised more than $900,000, just shy of last year's record-setting $1 million. (The evening went on despite a last-minute move by the dancers to boycott the gala likely due to ongoing contract negotiations.)

Naturally, the dance floor proved to be a focal point for André Wells, whose firm Events by André Wells produced the gala for the second year—and this year, the gala opted for just a DJ instead of a band. Mosaic printed chandeliers hung over the dance floor by a mirrored green DJ booth, which guests walked through as they entered the Terrace Level of the Kennedy Center. Then to draw guests out of their seats and get them talking and dancing, Wells nixed a plated dessert in favor of dessert bars and passed treats like caramel popcorn on the dance floor.

Wells spent time considering how to make the venue’s T-shaped floor plan feel inclusive. “You have to think of creative ways to make everyone feel included,” he says. “I don't think there is a good or bad table. They're all just different. If you're at the base of the T, we have to make it as inviting as if you were in the center of the top of the T.” The solution? Round tables opened up the space, while a bar at the far end of the T created a new gathering area for conversation.

The gala’s tropical, lush green color scheme belied the wintry February weather. “We wanted it to feel open and fresh, and I think green has a way of doing that,” Wells said. A photograph of an Alvin Ailey dancer waving a sheer green piece of fabric inspired the gala’s tropical look, with green lighting and tropical floral arrangements in varying heights from Volanni. The sheer fabric props used in Ailey’s most famous work, “Revelations,” also inspired a ceiling treatment in the atrium.

The more than $900,000 raised at the gala will go toward helping fund Ailey’s Washington D.C. programs, the creation of new works, Ailey’s educational programs for young people, and scholarships for D.C.-area students to attend the Ailey School in New York City.

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