We left behind another unhappy news cycle to be transported into the world of dance and music, at the gardened grounds of Elizabeth and John Sills. The al fresco buffet reception was the Summer Soiree for the Youth America Grand Prix, which finds, trains and places more ballet dancers into top companies than any other organization in the world.
Joanna Fisher, Suzanne Hall, Judith M. Hoffman and Joy Sabella co-hosted the evening. A glass was raised to the memory of Howard S. Paley. Dance stars Irina Dvorovenko, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Gabe Stone Shayer and Christine Shevchenko were involved.
NYC Ballet star and YAGP alumnus Lauren Lovette was honored. She chatted graciously with arts patrons while a lovely electric violinist in whimsical face paint and tutu provided a lilting soundtrack.
“We need more beauty in this world,” charming Choreographer Carlos Dos Santos exclaimed. “And peace, and love!” Dos Santos grooms and choreographs the nearly 500 finalists selected from 12,000 international aspirants to dance with some of the biggest names in the ballet, at YAGP’s “Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow” gala (this year on April 16). Many of those stars were in their toe shoes not that long ago.
Those shoes must sparkle, said Dos Santos, “Everything has to be impeccable to compliment the steps they have to do on stage: shoes, tights, skirts, hair, make-up. But, the most important thing for me other than the training they already bring, is for them to be happy, relate to each other, and show how much they love dance. It has to come through on the stage, so the audience can be mesmerized and taken to another level of beauty.”
Beauty is equally important on the world stage. “At the end of World War II, Winston Churchill donated huge amounts of money to the arts,” Judith Hoffman, a longtime arts advocate and a founding board member of YAGP, told us. “‘Winston, what are you doing?’ his friends and Parliament members asked. ‘The boys are coming home from war. They need food, clothing, shelter! Why are you donating money to the arts?’ ‘The boys need something to come home for,’ was Churchill’s reply.”
Judith Hoffman was a Board Member of ABT, when, 20 years ago, YAGP Artistic Director and Founder Larissa Saveliev decided to create a global network for dance. To put together a board, she was told, “Better ask Judith.” Barbara Brandt became the first Chair, now, Chair Emeritus. Linda Morse is the current Chair. Today, Youth America Grand Prix gives more scholarships and performance opportunities to young dancers than any other organization in the world. “It placed approximately 400 dancers currently performing in companies as varied as ABT, NYC Ballet, the Bolshoi, San Francisco, Royal Danish and Monte Carlo,” Jon Marder told us. “It is the great, great finder of young talent.”
Hoffman’s love for the dance began when she studied ballet from ages three to ten in what she called “a little storefront dancing school that would do its yearly, final performance at the Lyceum theater on Broadway.” She bettered her skills in advocating for the arts when Tony Randall and Kitty Carlisle Hart befriended her, while serving together on the Sag Harbor Cultural Center. Randall put her into the National Actors Theater Company he founded, that, coincidentally, was based for awhile at the Lyceum. “I performed there for seven years in a row,” she would tease him. He said he wanted her for his galas, ‘where you spend $1,000 to eat a piece of rubber chicken.'”
“I had worked with Kitty for many years before, doing landmarks, preservation and things of that note,” Hoffman remembered. “Before events, she would go over her lines with me. It was very special.” Carlisle never shirked the responsibility of her star power. When she was too ill to attend an event she headlined, she was taped at home. “She taught me, no matter what kind of sick bed you’re in, when those television lights come on you are glamorous, you are gallant and you do your job.”
Because, there is value – and valor – in beauty. It gives us a reason to come home.