Ackman Dances, Balloons Pop at Park Avenue Armory Gala Nightclub

  • An array of stimulation supports an ‘epic’ cultural center
  • Electric theme draws glow-in-the-dark boa and bow tie

Bill Ackman danced into a sea of guests about two feet deep in green and blue balloons, which soon began to pop not exactly in sync with the thumping club track.

Darrell Thorne designed the costumes for gala performers.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

"This is cool," Ackman said Wednesday night as the Park Avenue Armory’s gala segued from a seated chicken dinner with Patti LuPone singing "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" (really) to an 80’s club - think Danceteria, minus Madonna. Performers in gold and silver body paint and elaborate headdresses helped make the transition, along with Madonna stand-in Lauren Worsham in glittery purple sneakers and her indie-pop band Sky-Pony. An aerialist dangled on silks just before the balloons rained down.

The array of stimulation conveyed the purpose of the space, which is devoted to a multi-sensory, downtown-uptown, popular, never-heard-of mix of the performing arts.

Olivia Flatto, Bill Ackman, Karen Ackman and Adam Flatto

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Up in the air

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Rob Ashford and Rebecca Robertson

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Rebecca Robertson, president and executive producer, received the keys to the Seventh Regiment Armory on Dec. 19, 2006, on a 99-year-lease, with the mission of creating a cultural center for unusual work. "We’d already talked to a lot of people," Robertson said as Ruth Wilson of Showtime’s "The Affair" and the upcoming "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" arrived. "That was the magic of it, finding out that all sorts of artistic directors had projects they hadn’t been able to do."

Ruth Wilson, moderator of debating guests

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Almost 10 years in, the Armory has amassed quite the track record. Motorcycles have buzzed around, painting on the floor; sheep have roamed; and Kenneth Branagh performed as Macbeth with the audience entering through a Scottish heath.

Olivia Keehn, Mike Jacobellis, Kevin Keehn and Rachel Jacobellis

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

"I never fully understood Shakespeare until I saw ‘Macbeth’ here," said Strauss Zelnick, chairman and chief executive of Take-Two Interactive Software, whose wife, Wendy Belzberg, is a board member of the Armory. "The exhibitions, the art, the music, everything is right up to the cutting edge, and it’s still art. I don’t always like it -- I didn’t get the sheep -- but I always feel more alive after I’ve been to an Armory show."

Rachel Jacobellis, 34, recalled seeing the band the xx (only 45 people were admitted per show). "It allows you to experience these crazy things you would never experience in your whole life, things I will never forget, and I have a horrible memory," she said. Her husband, Mike, mentioned the installation by visual artist Ann Hamilton with "giant swings and the curtain that went up and down."

Pierre Audi, right

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Wendy Belzberg and Strauss Zelnick

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

All of these works went up in the 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall.

"It’s epic," said director and choreographer Rob Ashford, who with Branagh staged "Macbeth" and was honored at the gala. Michael R. Bloomberg, the majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, was also honored.

"It’s a blank sheet -- you can write anything on it," said Pierre Audi, the Armory’s artistic director (whose production of Rossini’s "Guillaume Tell" goes up at the Metropolitan Opera on Oct. 18). "It’s not like an industrial space, which has no soul. Here the building has a kind of life, a history, and you feel it."

Built in the Gilded Age by a volunteer militia, the Armory also has ornate rooms designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Stanford White and others, housing recitals and a lecture series. Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital Management is a season sponsor, used one of the rooms last week to host a book party for "Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems," by Georgia Levenson Keohane, executive director of the Pershing Square Foundation.

Paul Hilal

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Gala guests spent almost the entire evening in the Drill Hall, starting out in a glamorous space with a piano player and checkerboard floor until a silver curtain went up to reveal a set of steps into the dining room. The theme was "Electric" so there were glow sticks on the tables and clothes that glowed in the dark, most notably Paul Hilal’s bow tie and his wife Josefin’s blinking boa. (Ackman wore a plain-looking tuxedo -- but he does have that electric hair.)

Transitioning from cocktails to dinner

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Josefin Hilal’s illuminated boa

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Stephen Freidheim and J. Tomilson Hill greet Caroline Schmidt Barnett

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The event drew 710 guests and raised more than $2 million, setting a record for an Armory gala, said Adam Flatto, co-chairman of the Armory with Elihu Rose. Guests included J. Tomilson Hill, Robert Jain, Jeffrey Aronson, Andrew Farkas, and David P. Nolan.

Perhaps the oddest part of the evening was the first course of "retro hors d’oeuvres" that brought to mind bridge-club snacks. Each plate contained a deviled egg and skewers of caramelized pineapple, cheddar cheese puffs, mozzarella balls and olives. The house cocktail served on silver trays: Electric Blue Margaritas with Casamigos Tequila.

Sonnier & Castle’s ‘retro hors d’oeuvres’

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg
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