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|KcMag.com: ONE PARTY, THREE WAYS|
STORY BY Kerry Pitt-Hart
AN ARTISTIC AFFAIR
Prominently glowing were the words “dance tonight” emblazoned in white against a dazzling claret background. The message could not have been more appropriate for a dinner party whose guests gathered to celebrate the spirit, the wonder, the enviable physicality and the beauty of one of the country’s most celebrated dance companies: the Alvin Ailey dance company.
The host couple’s Tudor home, built in 1936, retains many of the original details designed by Kansas City’s Elmer Boillot and Jesse Lauck, architects of Hotel Phillips, The Walnuts and private homes in Kansas City and throughout the Midwest. Inside is a mix of original marble and wood floors, objects, art and pictures, all with a tale to tell—like a pair-of-hearts lithograph print by Jim Dine, an anniversary gift the couple gave to each other. Part of their collection included a ceramic sculpture by Viola Frey, the late Berkeley, California, artist known for using bric-a-brac and kitschy mass-produced figurines found in flea markets to create “bricolage” sculptures. Tactile and textured, Frey’s work fits the couple’s criteria: figurative, colorful and representative of an era.
The hearth room is a new design by Colorado architect Richard Fallin. In order to embrace the existing Tudor architecture, the couple chose old chestnut wood floors from a Civil War hospital and added exposed wood beams. To make way for their presence, an upstairs bedroom and bath were eliminated, resulting in 27 feet of soaring height extending all the way to the roof line.
A 17th-century reproduction limestone fireplace acquired from Eron Johnson Architectural Antiques in Denver provided a safe haven for many of the homeowners’ eclectic art pieces. Made of 12 pieces of limestone, this large-scale masterpiece likely came out of a French farmhouse. Adjacent to it is a window alcove of 18 multi-paned leaded glass windows designed to match the leading on the existing windows.
The chateau chimney, the two-tier iron chandelier, the warm plaster walls and timber beams with time-worn knots and splits all evoke the feeling that outside these windows could be towering snowy peaks and blankets of piney evergreen. As Christopher Alexander so aptly put it, “When people are in a place for any length of time, they need to be able to refresh themselves by looking at a world different from the one they are in.” Amid such a collection of art and objects, the house needed little dressing up for the occasion, and apart from adding a few tables and plenty of dining chairs, flowers were the only touch of beauty needed. Candles were placed on the dining tables, along with an undulating row of glass cylinders made from glass tubes and interlocking metal fixtures. Taking color cues from art in the room—a Viola Frey standing figure and an Elizabeth Eakins custom-made wool carpet—designer Phillip Hickman selected liatris, craspedia, bells of Ireland, purple Monte Casino asters, blue delphiniums and orange and hot-pink snapdragons with a little bear grass for motion.
One wouldn’t know that 60 people were in attendance. Having the bar in the sunroom, at the opposite end of the house from the kitchen, separated cocktail hour from dining. This helped the flow of the party and follows an important tip shared by many event planners: Avoid setting up the bar in the kitchen, near the front door or in a tight space.
Guests gathered in the living room and hearth room prior to queuing up for the seasonal menu provided by chef Renée Kelly. Braised beef, pecan-crusted chicken with Vin Merchant, fall apples, sweet-potato bake and sautéed haricots verts were served buffet-style in large serving platters made by local ceramicists Victor Babu, a former Kansas City Art Institute faculty member, and Peter Wilkin. For an event under time constraints, when the guests need to be somewhere later on, Kelly advises, “Keep the menu simple, be organized and be ready.”
For the homeowners, the benefit of being involved in Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey (KCFAA) has been witnessing the Ailey magic impact the lives of more than a million youth since 1984. The wife was a founding board member of KCFAA in 1984, and for two years prior, was one of 100 civic leaders who met with Alvin Ailey to design a second-home format to include residency performances and year-round youth outreach. But for this night, the couple were simply the gracious hosts who opened their spectacular home to those who share a common love for dance and the Kansas City community.
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A SKYLINE SOIRÉE
Many attendees were friends, evidenced by the constant hugs and handshakes as couples and individuals entered the foyer. Others were warmly greeted and introduced around. Soon, it was a cacophony of conversation and laughter as guests explored the rooms and admired the art acquired by the homeowners. A small painting on glass by Lisa Lala adorned the kitchen, and a large Gary Kyte acrylic of a farmhouse painted against a vibrant blue sky brought color to the elegant neutrals in the entryway.
The architecture itself is a masterpiece, filled with a wonderful mix of textures––floors and walls of pale gray stone, light woods interrupted here and there with bold strips of black marble, dark metal and two– and three-story windows. Several bronzes by Barry Eisenhart were dotted throughout the home and the expansive gardens overlooking downtown. His 4-foot tall “Sea Portal,” inspired by a seashell the artist found in New Zealand, defined the home’s entrance. Eisenhart’s bronze figures, depicting lithe bodies and muscular torsos, seemed custom-made for a party celebrating dance and athleticism.
As with the other homes open for this one magical night, the guest list was kept to a manageable 40 to 60 patrons. But somehow, hosts complied when implored to “fit just two more in.” At this location, adding more chairs wasn’t necessary; guests were happy to sit on staircases, perch on the fireplace hearth or gather in the kitchen to watch chef Michael Smith, of his self-named restaurant and Extra Virgin, prepare a Moroccan feast. The chef may have been inspired by the spice colors found in the soaring living room with striped floor-to-ceiling drapes in nutmeg, saffron and cinnamon, and chairs in a bittersweet-and-oatmeal floral print.
The buffet included Swiss chard dolmas with jasmine rice, golden raisins and almonds; roasted eggplant salad; grilled shrimp; and the dish guests raved about, a succulent chicken tagine with honey and dates. Traditionally prepared in the clay cooking pot that gives it its name, the entrée was redolent with cinnamon, turmeric, cumin and cilantro. A round table in the dining room was set with deep-hued linens and anchored by a massive floral arrangement by Matney Floral. Along with providing the flowers, Chuck Matney stepped in as co-host during the evening.
The home was host to the gala’s honorary chairs, John and Joanne Bluford, Dan Hesse and Diane Canaday. Attendees such as gallery owner Kim Weinberger, interior designer Alejandro Lopez, and CiCi Rojas, vice president of community engagement for Truman Medical Centers, chatted in small groups or moved around to explore. No matter the group, the conversations centered on the performance that would cap the evening as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre appeared for the first time on the stage of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. And those patrons lucky enough to have attended KCFAA galas in years past also were looking forward to the after party with dancing and a chance to mingle with the performers––and even share a lively tango with one beautiful dancer, as Chuck Matney did.
Fast facts about kansas city friends of alvin ailey
STORY BY Kate Brosseau
Ralph and Leisa Reid are one such couple, and as they opened the doors to their home (nestled near Liberty) to 80 guests for one Alvin Ailey party, the love they shared for the organization proved to be the biggest decoration of all. After a warm welcome from Leisa and a smile partnered with a hearty handshake from Ralph, guests stepped onto the light hardwood floors that led into a stunning foyer framed by an ornate ceiling and fixtures.
After co-hosting for three years, the Reids were excited to bring a patrons’ party to a home in northern Kansas City. Although they have a hand in many philanthropic and social events, their involvement with Alvin Ailey was made a priority. “I feel like it’s the most diverse event in the city,” Leisa says. “The [Alvin Ailey] organization not only gives the arts to adults, but they do it for children as well. We want to do all we can to promote it.”
Guests gathered in the expansive living room, adorned with a mix of modern glass sculpture and African-influenced art pieces. Although the works are a mainstay at the Reid home, the artistic treasures properly framed an evening for the arts. Petite floral arrangements with yellow mums and pale-orange carnations matched the cool fall November evening to perfection.
Tables covered in delicate white linens were centered with small glass cases carrying warm orange and yellow flowers anchored in sand. Autumn-leaf garland and notes of the impending Thanksgiving holiday embellished the fireplace mantel, which was intentionally arranged by Leisa because she “didn’t want to skip over Thanksgiving. It always gets ignored with Christmas.”
As old friends reacquainted and new friends shared dinner, glitzy slap bracelets were given to each guest so they could easily find one another at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts when every party’s attendees came together. Creating a common bond, as accomplished by the bracelets, is something that the president of the KCFAA board, Debby Ballard, carries out beyond this night of glamour. “We do this big, fun thing now because the company is here, but more than this it’s about the year-round program we do in the schools for 30,000 kids,” she says. “We just want to make dance accessible to all people.”
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