Performa's Russian-Inspired Red Party Has Custom Stage, Cotton Candy Cell

By Lisa Cericola November 9, 2010, 9:00 AM EST

Photo: Keith Sirchio for BizBash

Performa's Red Ball
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Nonprofit arts organization Performa is known for turning the typical benefit dinner on its head. Past incarnations of the event have included a DJ booth in a tree house, colorful projections on guests' white clothes, chocolate Jeff Koons rabbits that guests cracked apart with hammers, and of course, plenty of avant-garde performances, one of the hallmarks of the organization. The Red Party, this year's fund-raiser for the 2011 biennial, held November 6 at SIR Stage37, was no exception.

RoseLee Goldberg, Performa's founding director and curator, said this year's theme was inspired by Russian Constructivism, particularly a historic set designed by Russian artist Lyubov Popova for the 1922 play The Magnanimous Cuckold. Goldberg and general manager Esa Nickle worked with artist Zach Rockhill to recreate the stage, a multilevel platform made of red scaffolding and decorated with banners by artist Kyle Goen. The event was co-produced with sound and engineering firm Arup.

“Our galas are wonderful ways for us to introduce people to exciting avant-garde ideas from the past, and we do that so people can really feel and experience ideas by artists from a hundred years ago,” said Goldberg. “Our parties show how fresh and brilliant those ideas continue to be.”

The event had a dark, tailored look, with rows of long dining tables dressed in plain black and red linens. Russian-inspired banners and projections of Constructivist art tied into the theme. As in past years, guests were instructed to dress in a certain color—red, of course—and for those who didn't comply, designer Karelle Levy created made-to-order garments on the spot. Another designer, Erik Bergrin made floppy, oversize hats inspired by Charles Lecocq's 1922 production of Girofle-Girofla, which guests donned to pose for Polaroids.

The main conversation piece of the night was “Padded Cell,” a small, freestanding room created by food artist Jennifer Rubell. Guests entered the space a few at a time, helping themselves to the fluffy pink cotton candy lining the walls and ceiling. Rubell said she used 1,600 cones of cotton candy to complete the installation. “The Red Party’s main dinner is served inside a Russian-themed Constructivist set, and 'Padded Cell' acts as an escape from that, an all-American fun house that is at the same time confining, threatening, claustrophobic,” Rubell said. “It is an object that addresses the dark side of pleasure, the price of pleasure, the possibility that pleasure is its own punishment.”

About 250 people attended the seated dinner, hosted by Alan Cumming, Performa's first-ever M.C. During dinner, postmodern choreographer Yvonne Rainer and a troupe of dancers presented excerpts from Rainer’s new performance, Assisted Living: Good Sports 2, and German actress Barbara Sukowa performed with a live band. “We’re very aware that benefits are an unavoidable part of the cultural landscape of New York, and that people go to so many of them to keep New York vital, and that they can be quite exhausting, so we do everything we can to make them as un-benefitlike and as enjoyable as possible,” said Goldberg.

In addition to passed hors d'oeuvres, Bite served a family-style menu of borscht with a variety of side dishes to accompany the soup, including braised oxtail, parsnip pancakes, and balsamic lentils. Dessert stayed within the red theme: cherries jubilee, red velvet cakes with pomegranate icing, and magenta macaroons.

An after-party with DJs Tikka Masala and Pierce Jackson and more entertainment drew 500.

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