Houston arts benefactor Franci Neely was delighted to hit the Big Apple on Oct. 10 for the Baryshnikov Arts Fall Fête 2023 gala. The annual event supports legendary dancer, choreographer, and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov’s nonprofit. Founded in 2005, Baryshnikov Arts champions artists from all disciplines and at all different points on their journey.
Franci Neely was pleased to attend the gathering, which requested that guests sport “tennis whites” inspired by the dance performance Jeux, which means “game” in French.
“It was great fun to see many of the gala attendees dressed with a nod to the tennis white attire theme,” Franci Neely shares. “The ballet itself was beautifully danced, playful, mysterious, gender-fluid, sometimes ominous. It held my attention from beginning to end.”
This world premiere of Jeux by award-winning choreographer Christopher Williams is described on baryshnikovarts.org as “an original queer reimagining of Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 ballet set to the eponymous poèmedansé by Claude Debussy.”
TheNew York Times deemed Jeuxsculptural and modern. Baryshnikov Arts’ Instagram describes it as “an exploration of the ambiguities of sexual attraction through the prism of a tennis match.”
Williams, who describes himself on his website as “a curious alchemist of theatre,” fuses contemporary dance with visual design, music, and other elements to bring stories to life on stage.
“I support Baryshnikov Arts for the reasons stated in its mission statement and because I’m friends with the concert pianist PedjaMuzijevic and Slavka Glaser, both of whom are long-time supporters,” Neely adds. “Pedja is one of the dearest friends of Baryshnikov — Misha, as he’s known — his lovely and talented wife, Lisa, and their daughter Anna Baryshnikov, a fine young actor, and her producer hubby Teddy Bergman were also there.”
Now in its 18th year, the gala continues to raise money to support its goals of assisting a diverse group of artists to promote self-expression.
The evening included a silent auction with works by Jonathan Paul eyewear, painter and sculptor Joseph Conforti, artists Rebecca Stenn and Leonor Fini, and other creators. Other items up for grabs included a weekend at actress Isabella Rossellini’s Mama Farm, a Proscenium Gallery poster for Jean Cocteau Exhibition Paris 1980, an 18-karat gold necklace and earrings by Gumuchian, and a dinner at the members-only National Arts Club in NYC’s Gramercy Park neighborhood.
Baryshnikov: ‘My Personal Tiny Contribution to Society’
In an interview, Baryshnikov said he wanted to create Baryshnikov Arts, formerly known as the Baryshnikov Arts Center, to help young artists succeed, acknowledging that breaking into the art business in New York City — and all around the country — is no easy feat. “This is not enough friendly places in my view in this city or this country for foreign artists, especially in the last 15 to 20 years,” Baryshnikov said. “I really wanted to do something for the city, which I really admire, and for the country, which I love. It is my personal tiny contribution to society.”
Baryshnikov stressed that he wanted to give young artists the opportunity to realize who they are in this life and their art. “That’s what this place is for.”
The dance director and Sex and the City guest star, who turned 75 in January, is still passionate about inspiring future generations to join the arts.
“I think it’s fair to say BAC has developed far beyond my original goals. I’d say BAC is ‘on the map’ in the New York arts scene, and we’re providing an invaluable service to hundreds of artists,” Baryshnikov toldForbes. “I want BAC to exist beyond my involvement and be financially strong enough to continue for many decades to come.”
Sonja Kostich was a dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and later Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project before becoming Baryshnikov Arts Center’s executive director. “BAC’s mission is to be an arts center for all the arts, not just dance but also theater and music,” Kostich told Dance Magazine. “It’s exciting for the artists, and it also really lends itself to developing the audience. And I think it’s important to do programming that speaks to the audience.”
Franci Neely’s Fall Agenda Is Full of Fancy
This autumn, Franci Neely says she’s also planning to attend the opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X and Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Neely adds she’s also looking forward to seeing The Refuge Plays at the Roundabout Theatre.
X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X premiered in 1986 but will finally hit the Met. The show chronicles Malcolm X’s powerful story and fight against racism and oppression. It’s all part of an ongoing mission to bring more diverse works to the Met.
On Sept. 26, Franci Neely attended her friend Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking opera premiere at the Met.
“There’s a lot of commissioning of new work with very, very current themes, timely themes. And at least, to my knowledge, that’s attracting young people, diverse people, people who don’t necessarily have any track record with the opera,” Neely says.
The Refuge Plays at the Roundabout Theatre is a series of three plays told through the eyes of multiple generations. “The first play deals with death and how do we let go? How do we figure out a way to pass the baton to the next generation?” director Patricia McGregor said in a video. “The second play, in many ways, deals with holding on. How do we root ourselves when there’s so much mystery in our history? The third play deals with how do we begin after all the drama in our personal lives and history of the country with everything going on. How do we begin again with hope? I think decades and maybe even lifetimes from now, people will pick up these plays, and they will benefit from all we poured into them.”
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