Bettina's Take: American Ballet Theatre's 2011 Spring Gala

Anna Wintour  Carolina Herrera

American Ballet Theatre celebrated the opening of its 71st season on May 16 at the Metropolitan Opera, and what a night it was.

The 2011 Spring Gala was filled with black-tie-clad ballet enthusiasts who knew it would be well worth it to brave the rain and wind. ABT is known for its exceptional dancers, innovative choreography, brilliant use of costumes, and much more. It is one of New York City's great cultural institutions.

The incredible performance featured excerpts from ABT's upcoming season, which ranged from the classic Swan Lake to Splendid Isolation, which was choreographed by Jessica Lange and featured a long, spiraling and unraveling white dress as an integral part of the performance. Pure magic.

There was also a special tribute to Jose Manuel Carreño—ABT's legendary principal dancer who is retiring this year—featuring the company premiere of Majisimo. Carreño himself performed, as well as Lorena and Lorna Feijóo from the San Francisco Ballet and the Boston Ballet, respectively, and Reyneris Reyes from the Miami City Ballet, among others.

The post-performance dinner was served under a huge, white Cuban-themed tent in Damrosch Park, decorated to perfection by Bill Tansey in deep pink, orange and yellow tablecloths with contrasting napkins, floral centerpieces in strong colors, and lighting that made everyone look like they had gotten at least eight hours of sleep.

The crowd was chic and gorgeous, including Anna Wintour; Ashley and Jeff McDermott; Sara Ayres; Tory Burch (in vintage) and Lyor Cohen; Muffie Potter Aston, looking like a princess in an off-white Badgley Mischka tulle confection, with husband Sherell; Alex Hitz; and Miami-born philanthropist Sarah Arison, in a sexy black Lanvin dress and Monique Péan jewelry, with her fiancé, entrepreneur Eric Masella.

Spring Gala chairman Sloan Lindemann Barnett, stunning in a fuchsia Dolce & Gabbana, gave a wonderful speech. "This evening is perfect, fantastic. I asked [ABT artistic director] Kevin McKenzie, 'Can I just say that?' That's all that needs to be said. Stay late and dance, and celebrate the glory of what you've just witnessed."

Sloan and her equally brilliant husband, Roger, live mainly in San Francisco, as does the other evening's chairman, Diane B. Wilsey. As a result, many California notables came to support the cause, including Susan Dunlevy and Allison Speer.

Honorary chairman Blaine Trump spoke of her long devotion to ABT. "I'm on the board and started working for ABT in 1987," said Trump, in a floral Carolina Herrera dress (Mrs. Herrera was also an honorary chairman). "I first started chairing the opening night when ABT did Gaîté Parisienne. Christian Lacroix did the costumes and convinced me to chair the gala. I fell in love with the company then. When I started working with the company it was in transition. Now we are one of the great ballet companies in the world!"

Junior co-chairman Lily Johnson White, dressed in a black and red Dolce & Gabbana paired with Chrome Hearts jewelry, loves the ballet, and her involvement with ABT has been a great experience.

"I was thrilled to be a junior committee member this year. It is a very cool and dynamic group of people and has been a huge amount of fun," she said. "I've been getting to vicariously live out my childhood fantasies of being a prima ballerina by going to see the rehearsals and meet the dancers. If you want to see the truly iconic, classical ballets that make you cry they are so beautiful, then you go see ABT. Every year it gets better! I have already booked my season tickets."

Guests danced the night away, burning enough calories to eat the fresh Sprinkles cupcake in the goody bag, donated by California-based owners Candace and Charles Nelson, who just opened their first New York store on the Upper East Side. "Have you ever tasted a Sprinkles cupcake? They're unbelievable," I kept hearing from the California contingent, and indeed the Red Velvet knocked my dancing shoes off.

The evening, generously underwritten by Graff, raised over $1.75 million, for the first time since 2008. Things are looking up, New York. Thanks to institutions like ABT, we remain one of the great cultural centers in the world.

Photo: Anna Wintour and Carolina Herrera