Saturday, April 9, 2011

lightning strikes twice

How much of a let-down do you suppose it was for Cinderella to go back to her drab work-clothes and mundane life after the night at the ball?  Never really thought of it, did you?  We just assume she "knew her place" and when the ball ended, she resumed her day-to-day Normal without a second thought.

I don't think that's how it happened.

Imagine, if you will, a grand ballroom, with a glass ceiling 150 feet high.  Wide Grand stairways flank the North and South sides of an expansive plaza, leading to groups of tables for dining and enchanting fellow guests.  The tables are decked elaborately in shades of fuchsia and tangerine with small iridescent beads on the tassles of seat cushions, an array of gilded wine glasses and fine white china surrounding a centerpiece of well over a dozen similarly colored roses.  In fact, there are so many guests at the ball that seating goes up two more levels from the grand ballroom floor, on wide balconies overlooking the center of a near-celestial space.  Only slightly offset from the middle of all this is an 80-foot tall light sculpture, which "dances" to the rhythm of music pumped through the hall by invisible musicians.

Look around; everywhere you look are men in stiff black suits and impossibly white shirts.  On their arms, a variety of ladies both elegant and homely.  You can hear the rustle of satin and taffeta as they move, although some make no sound at all but move ethereally through the room with flowing chiffon and silk on feet that barely touch the floor.  A jewelry box of colored cloth, here and there the glint of a diamond that caught the last rays of sunlight, and the heady scent of a perfume jungle envelope your senses and transport you to a nearly magical place where you feel time almost stops existing.

Where is this magical place?  Broad and Spruce.  The Kimmel Center.

Last night was the opening night Gala for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA), held at the Kimmel Center.  As I mentioned a short bit ago, I was blessed to be chosen for the opportunity to help out with this event, thereby scoring free admission to an event other people were paying $750 to attend (and that's before the fancy dress, shoes, and tux).

In addition to the lovely (huge) flower arrangements all over the place (I wouldn't have thought to combine peachy-pink roses with canary forsythia, but I guess that's why I'm not a floral designer), there was a troup of performance artists to greet gala-goers as they entered Commonwealth Plaza, which has been "redecorated" with a Parisian theme.  There was a mime and a 7 foot tall juggler as well as two performers on stilts (the juggling dude was not on stilts), but my favorite was a flower.

It looks a little creepy and a little fruity all rolled up into one chartreuse bodysuit, but this was really something to behold.  The artist was dressed in a total bodysuit - even his face was covered - and then wrapped in this blue flower-body.  He moved very slowly and with surreal balance as he repeatedly "bloomed" and then withdrew.

There were 800 attendees at the gala and some of the dresses were just fabulous - I saw one young lady in a form-fitting gold satin mermaid gown.  She looked stunning.  One of the organizers of the gala was enchanting in a floor-length, off-the-shoulder, princess-cut lavender gown.  There were plenty of gorgeous jewel tones in silk dupioni and chiffon charmeuse - crimson with shades of black, emerald green and sapphire blue, with the occasional pleated silver or shimmery beige satin making an appearance.

One woman's dress stood out above the rest, though.  I could tell this was a woman of great wealth.  Clearly, she was the kind of woman who could go into a taylor and pick out her favorite fabric with precise instructions as to the design of her dress and that is what she would leave with.  No one would argue with her.

Even if they really should have told her that was tapestry material, intended by its manufacturer for thick drapes, rather than floor-length mandarin-inspired ball gowns.

Anyway, after we (the volunteers) got everyone signed in and gave them their golden tickets, handed over with a charming and sparkling smile each and every time, it was time to herd everyone into the main theatre for a performance of Falla's The Three-Cornered Hat by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  I was thrilled to find myself seated in the fourth row of the first Tier - completely unobstructed view of the stage from one of the three center sections.  I have always preferred to see the orchestra from the balcony/first tier because when you're on the stage level you can only see the front of the orchestra - the first violins, the cellos, and the conductor.  From the upper levels, you can look over the whole group - I love watching the timpanist.

At the conclusion of the Orchestra's performance, everyone squeezed back out into the lobby area for a short intermission.  The Plaza was kept relatively low-lit, but the 80-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower was faintly glowing, a promise of what would be a spectacular light show just before dinner.

Me (Right) with the other volunteers from my company

That picture was taken by the CEO's assistant - the CEO and several other execs were actually there as guests (since our company is one of the sponsors, after all).  Directly after the picture was taken, the CFO approached our merry little group, but then spoke directly to me, wondering if I had seen my friend who was also in attendance with her family.  Turned out the CFO and a VP (and his beautiful blond wife) were in the box right next to where my friend and her family were seated.  We were mutually acquainted through this family, but what happened next floored me.

"I have an extra ticket if you'd like to join us in the box."

Excuse me?

Talk about being in the right place at the right time...  I smiled and left my three colleagues standing there catching flies as I accompanied the CFO back to the box and greeted my friend.  The seats were incredible - I couldn't have been closer to the stage if I was sitting on it.  I was so close that I was making eye contact with the dancers.

The Pennsylvania Ballet, accompanied by the Philadelphia Orchestra and three soloists (tenor, bass, and mezzo-soprano), put on a stunning performance of Stravinsky's Pulcinella.  I could see every muscle move as these strong, powerful bodies floated and flew across the stage.  I have long admired the strength of ballet dancers and you can really see it when you're that close - I could barely breathe.  A long time ago, in another lifetime, I went to the ballet almost every other month.  Our seats were in the middle of the parquet, which is the floor level.  I prefer to see the dancers that close or closer so I can fully appreciate the work they have put into their movement.  I never dreamed I would see the ballet quite that close, though.

I fear I may be spoiled now and this is an expensive vice.

After the performance, I headed back out to help steer gala-goers toward their elegantly appointed tables for their Wolfgang Puck-created dinner.  Once everyone had taken their seats, Mayor Michael Nutter took the stage and flipped a giant switch to activate the Eiffel Tower, which sprung to life as music played throughout the plaza.  Please pardon the fuzziness - the lights were "moving."

After dinner, and just before dessert, there was a performance by Grounded Aerial, a New York-based acrobatic troup.  As gala-goers looked on from their seats on the plaza level and first two tiers, these artists rappelled down the side of the theatre in which we had just seen the orchestra and ballet moments before.  They performed some kind of aerial pantomime as they repeated scaled the wall (four stories high) and "fell" back down again. 

It was kind of thrilling for the first minute or two, but after that, I have to admit, they were just rappelling.

Once their show had finished, the grand presentation of dessert occurred.  In orientation, we had been promised something quite grand, but no hints were given, just a little tease.  Warning: this picture sucks, but maybe if you click on it to blow it up full-sized, you'll be able to make it out.

Two-tiered silver dessert trays were adorned with colorful macaroons and chocolate decadence and delivered to each table in a "hot air balloon."  It was really a sight to behold.  Unfortunately, my flash appears to actually make things darker when I use it.  Even more unfortunately, my camera battery died immediately after I snapped this picture.  So, like I said, click on it to maximize and then squint.

It was an incredible experience that I hope to repeat in the a guest.  Since I just got my "merit" increase at work, I figured out that if I save the $30 more per paycheck that I am now getting, I should be able to afford one ticket for next year's gala.

Speaking of work....I know I have them to thank for this opportunity, but it was SO HARD to go in today.  After an enchanted evening of jewel tones and gilded glassware, skilled artists and ethereal dancers, not to mention a new chunk of bling with which I decorated my wrist, today was just gray and mundane.  Such a disappointment.  I just want to live in PIFA - I'll be a PIFA Princess!

So yeah, I don't think Cinderella felt quite the same about her rags and broom the day after the ball... I'm pretty sure she breathed a huge sigh of relief when Prince Charming came to rescue her from her pail and mop.

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