`Whipped Cream' Lures Tony James, Blake Lively to Ballet Gala

  • Blackstone president is honored by American Ballet Theatre
  • Alexei Ratmansky offers surreal, sugar-filled new work

It sounds like a sweet work outing: On Monday night, Blackstone Group’s Joseph Baratta, Michael Chae and Tom Hill went to see “Whipped Cream,” a new surreal ballet about a boy who eats too much at a confectioner’s shop.

Katie Holmes arrives

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Tony James, president of the private equity firm, warmed up the crowd (including Blake Lively and Katie Holmes) for the dancing nurses and Cake Ladies of the boy’s fantasies.

American Ballet Theatre’s Spring Gala was never as trippy -- or financially successful. The event raised $3.4 million, double last year’s take, with James, a former chairman of ABT, as the honoree.

Blake Lively

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

It was a good day for Blackstone, too: After laying out plans for a $40 billion infrastructure fund, the stock rose to an 18-month high.

ABT dancers Misty Copeland and Marcelo Gomes started the pre-show lauding Kennedy Cassada, a 16-year-old from Jacksonville, Florida, who received a scholarship to study at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

Tony James and Caroline Kennedy

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Then Caroline Kennedy introduced James, one of the few people “who are willing to do more and inspire others,” she said, recounting that they’d met serving on the board of the Brearley School. She also joked about tearing through his “romantic thriller,” the book “Rescuing Retirement.”

James said American Ballet Theatre is one of the institutions that “make New York the great city it is, and the diverse city it is,” and he praised artistic director Kevin McKenzie, who has held the position for almost 25 years.

Dancers in "Whipped Cream" costumes were on hand during dinner for photo ops.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Though James stepped down as chairman in the early aughts, he’s a lead supporter of a new fund to enable resident choreographer Alexei Ratmansky to create a new work every year. The Ratmansky Project has raised $10 million toward its $15 million goal, and funded “Whipped Cream,” made with artist Mark Ryden, who oversaw the set and costumes.

Calvin Royal, Suzanne Hall and Valentino Carlotti

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

“Whipped Cream” uses the score Richard Strauss composed for the ballet “Schlagobers,” which had its premiere in postwar Vienna in 1924. “I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy, I need it,” Strauss wrote about the work, criticized at the time as opulent and escapist.

Ratmansky and Ryden’s interpretation is also escapist, but self-aware, and there are darker moments: a screen full of eyes, nurses with giant syringes. Among the more ridiculous, amusing (and almost straight-out-of-Saturday Night Live distractions): Liquor bottles dancing and a naked baby riding on the back of a pink yak.

Abigail and Joseph Baratta

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

And the evening was not isolated from the realities of the world outside the theater. At intermission, many turned on their phones to learn of a terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.

Andrew Barth, his sister Carmen Fox, a former dancer, and his son Andrew Barth Jr.

Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Being together was a comfort. At the post-performance dinner, James sat with his wife Amie and daughter Becky, with Baratta, Chae, as well as Paul Taubman and Jacques Brand of PJT Partners nearby. Andrew Barth, chairman of Capital Guardian Trust and the current chairman of American Ballet Theatre, sat with fellow former wrestler Noel Thompson. Dick Cashin sat with another former U.S. Olympic rower, David Weinberg.

Doug Silverman of hedge fund Senator Investment Group dined with ABT principal David Hallberg, who had danced the role of Prince Coffee in “Whipped Cream,” returning to the New York stage for the first time after a long recovery from injury. Valentino Carlotti of Goldman Sachs sat with ABT corps member Calvin Royal.

Unlike the ballet, the meal did not tempt many to overindulge. The chocolate torte was accompanied by the smallest dollop of whipped cream.

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