What on earth do you wear to a virtual ball?
That was the thought going through my mind last Friday as I dug through my closet, searching for something to wear to the virtual Houston Ballet Ball. Of course, I could just wear sweatpants, but I wanted an excuse to dress up.
“What are you wearing?” I texted my cousin, who was coming over to watch the presentation with me.
“Sequins,” she replied. With that in mind, I crawled to the very back of my closet, and pulled out a sparkly jumpsuit. Turns out, our sparkly getups coordinated perfectly with the ball’s retro Saturday Night Fever-inspired theme.
When someone from the Houston Ballet Ball committee reached out to me last January with an invitation to this year’s event, I was curious. I knew many of these kind of functions were pivoting to virtual because of the pandemic, but I didn’t know how they worked. How did the meal work? What about the presentation? Could it capture the grandeur of an in-person ball? Intrigued, I RSVP’d “yes.”
The ball had been originally scheduled for February 22, but was pushed to March 5 because of the winter storm and power outages.
About a week before the ball, I received text message with the link to the silent auction. All week, I casually scrolled through beautiful earrings from Tenenbaum Jewelers, a private dinner at Guard & Grace, wine tastings, a ballet class with Principal Karina Gonzalez, and more.
Friday afternoon, there was a knock on my door. When I opened, someone from the Ball handed me a massive iridescent swag bag filled with ‘70s themed goodies (my favorite was the disco ball water bottle) and an even larger bag of food. I stared agape at the bags for a moment, before thanking the deliverer and shutting the door.
City Kitchen catered the event with a dinner that included a delicious Boston Bibb wedge salad, braised short rib with cabernet glace and horseradish crème fraiche, roasted tri-color fingerling potatoes, Semolina muffins, and chocolate pecan tart with bourbon whipped cream and cinnamon caramel swirl. Heating instructions were included.
Patrons who donated $15,000 or more received a separate dinner of filet mignon stuffed with truffle butter wrapped with green leek “ribbon” with old wine zinfandel sauce from their preferred caterer, but City Kitchen had included bottles of brut, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon in my bag, and I was in heaven.
About an hour and a half before the Ball began, all 250 guests (myself included) received a Vimeo link to the presentation.
Dancers from the Houston Ballet Company began the program with a mashup outside the Wortham Theater Center to the BeeGees (my cousin and I danced along at home). Principal dancer Connor Walsh then came on to welcome everyone, and Board President Leigh Smith thanked patrons for their support.
Artistic Director Stanton Welch thanked several doctors from Houston Methodist, the year’s honorees, for the role they played in caring for the Ballet’s dancers. The honorees included Dr. Marc Boom, Dr. Victor Fainstein, Dr. Joshua Harris, Dr. Vijay Jotwani, and Dr. Kevin Varner.
Throughout the evening, Ballet Ball Committee members relived iconic balls from years past, including last year’s golden 50th anniversary celebrations. We were also treated to dance performances from the Houston Ballet, including a viewing of the premiere of Welch’s original In Good Company, which was filmed during the pandemic.
By the end of the evening, the ball had raised nearly $850,000 as crisis relief for the Ballet’s dancers, staff, musicians and academy faculty, who have been heavily affected by the pandemic’s impact on live events. Throughout the 2020-21 season the organization had raised $5 million to help offset the Houston Ballet’s lost revenue due to the pandemic.
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting when the evening began, but I was blown away by the time the program ended about an hour after it started. The food was fabulous, I enjoyed seeing clips of the opulent past balls, and I loved watching the dancers.
While I won’t say virtual balls completely replace the magic of a massive, in-person gala, it certainly was fun to get dressed up after a year of sweatpants and support the Houston Ballet. It was special, and I can’t wait to see what next year’s in-person ball brings.