Society / Featured Parties

Houston Ballet’s Lavish 50th Birthday Party Morphs Into $1.8 Million Show With Beautiful Dancers, a Hip Cowboy and Gold Galore

9-Foot-Tall Cake Puts the Icing on the Anniversary Fun

BY // 02.26.20
photography Wilson Parish

As befitting a 50th anniversary, the Houston Ballet Ball was nothing less than a night of golden splendor for which the swans outdid themselves in lavish gowns and the gilded decor (think thousands of yards of shimmering silk drapes) transformed the Grand Foyer of Wortham Theater Center into a glamorous music box.

And, yes, as music boxes have their ballet dancers, so this ballet ball rocked with a smashing dance performance, choreographed by Houston Ballet first soloist Oliver Halkowich, a surprise that concluded with presentation of a 9-foot tall birthday cake with 50 “candles” accompanied by an explosion of white and gold confetti — but not before Houston Ballet executive director Jim Nelson and Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch did a brief, playful pas de deux in the middle of the modern ballet extravaganza that spotlighted the full company.

Such fun! And the icing on this cake was the gala’s $1.8 million in proceeds.

The entire evening enjoyed the peak of enthusiasm, surpassing any seen in the Grand Foyer in many moons. After all, who would not be exhilarated by the transformation of the lobby where The Events Company, under guidance of ball chairs Beth (regal in a diaphanous gown by Oscar de la Renta) and Nick Zdeblick, created a flower-encased, golden cocoon. It started with covering the rather garish Wortham Center carpet with a cream carpet, which along with the soaring walls draped ceiling to floor in shimmering silk, cosseted the beautiful throng in elegance.

(The Events Company’s honcho Richard Flowers helicoptered in — thank you Tilman Fertitta — from Mardi Gras in Galveston to insure that all met the Zdeblicks’ expectations. Then he jetted back to the San Luis for Fertitta’s midnight party that followed Saturday night’s Mardi Gras parade.)

Golden Moment at the 50th Anniversary Ballet Ball; Photo by Wilson Parish
Houston Ballet principals and corps join the 50th anniversary celebration. (Photo by Wilson Parish)

Among those swanning princess-like through the merry throng were honorary chair Phoebe Tudor in a gilded gossamer gown by Monique Lhuillier, accompanied by her co-honorary chair Bobby Tudor, and honoree Margaret Alkek Williams, in a stunning gold beaded gown that Marie Antionette would have coveted. The diminutive philanthropist allowed that the gown, couture from Ripetta of Rome, weighed close to 50 pounds. Ah, the price of unbridled — heavily beaded —elegance.

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(Stay tuned to PaperCity this week for more on the fabulous gowns of the ball.)

Dinner was as exceptional as the decor with Jackson & Company launching the feast with a first course of golden macaron with caviar filling and potato panna cotta with black truffle. A rich, lobster-loaded bisque followed with the main course of beef tenderloin and accompaniments, and “Chocolat a la Margaret!” in tribute to the honoree, well known for her love of desserts and chocolate in particular.

Ballet ball entertainment soared with the company’s casually costumed dancers whirling across the dance floor in Halkowich’s brilliant contemporary routine that followed dinner. The moment the shower of confetti subsided, the Sound House out of New York and The Tribute, presented by Elan Artists, kicked in and there was nary a spare place on the floor.

Taking the spotlight literally on this night was Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters, who jumped on the stage for “Old Town Road,” his black and white cowboy ensemble perfect for Lil Nas X’s smash country hit.

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