David Herro had the most royal company at his dinner table Tuesday night: Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Titania, his Queen, or rather, Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb, the Royal Ballet dancers who’d just performed those roles in Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream,” the company classic based on Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
On stage, she in a pale gossamer dress and he in green tights, leapt and twirled in the woods, fighting and reconciling as mischievous Puck confused two pairs of mortal lovers about their affections.
At the dinner table, she in a black cocktail dress and he in a tuxedo, all scrubbed up, dug into lobster salad and braised artichokes as they shared impressions of the Royal Ballet’s U.S. tour and Herro, a portfolio manager at Harris Associates, shared some of his own dancing abilities.
“Polkas! At weddings,” Herro said. “I’m from Wisconsin.”
This particular evening was a gala for the Joyce Theater Foundation, which made possible the New York engagement at the David H. Koch Theater through Sunday.
Herro and his partner, Jay Franke, artistic director of the Chicago Dancing Festival, were gala co-chairmen. Franke, a former dancer, is on the board of the foundation, which with a $13 million annual budget presents more than 330 dance performances a year, runs rehearsal space and offers education programs.
The foundation’s primary venue is its Joyce Theater in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. In the past few years, it has also started bringing dance to the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. Among these projects, presenting the Royal Ballet is the most expensive, said Executive Director Linda Shelton, noting the size of the company (90 dancers) and the full orchestra involved.
The gala night marked Royal Ballet’s first performance in New York since 2004 and principal dancer Lamb’s debut as Titania. The dancer, raised in Boston and now a Londoner, made a beautiful example of Ashton’s style: the quick footwork, musicality, storytelling and that very English humor.
“It’s wonderful to wake up and have to be head over heels in love with a donkey,” Lamb said. “It’s an acting challenge and really fun.”
More solemnly, the evening included a moment of silence for former New York City Ballet principal Albert Evans, who died Monday at the age of 46. “He was just such a gentle soul,” said Tom Gold, who danced with him at New York City Ballet.
Also during dinner, Royal Ballet principal Edward Watson and retired New York City Ballet dancer Wendy Whelan presented an honor to Christopher Wheeldon, who was at Royal Ballet before moving to New York 22 years ago to join New York City Ballet, and now choreographs.
Wheeldon trained for but never had the chance to perform the role of Oberon with Royal Ballet. “If I remember correctly, I was an absolutely phenomenal bucktoothed rustic,” Wheeldon said. More recently at Royal Ballet, he choreographed “The Winter’s Tale,” based on Shakespeare’s play.
In the live auction, four tickets to “An American in Paris,” the Broadway show Wheeldon won a Tony for, garnered $5,000. Topping that at $6,500 was a night in the Royal Box at the Royal Opera House in London, including dinner in the box’s private dining room. Queen Victoria had it built off to the side, the better for her to be seen.
In addition to the stars of “The Dream,” Herro’s table close to the dance floor featured Philip Mosley -- the Royal Ballet’s real-life Billy Elliot, whom Herro said he’s known for 20 years -- and Mark Janssens, the former New York Rangers hockey player turned trader at Access Securities.
The Joyce Theater Foundation is named after Joyce Mertz, daughter of LuEsther Mertz. Their fortune grew out of founding Publishers Clearing House.