American Ballet Theatre gala with great dancers and Jennifer Garner

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“It is my lifelong dream to be up here and celebrating the American Ballet Theatre. And lucky for all of you, I will not be dancing tonight, that’s my holiday gift,” said Golden Globe-winning actress Jennifer Garner, who proudly took ballet lessons as a kid. She was beaming when she welcomed patrons of the arts at the American Ballet Theatre’s Annual Holiday Benefit on December 17 at The Beverly Hilton.

Garner was delightfully enthusiastic as the emcee for the event, and she had every reason to be. “Tonight we will be treated to a one-night only performance of classics and new works featuring the world’s most gifted dancers. I’ve followed and befriended many of them over on social media,” she revealed with the joy of a little girl who has discovered the beauty and magic of the ballet world. Principal dancers Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside introduced Garner and called her their “beloved friend, accomplished performer, entrepreneur, super-mom and self-professed ballet junkie.”

Indeed, Garner is such a cheerleader for ballet in general and the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in particular, that she produced a funny short video that featured her playing the role of Pierrette in a parody of the Harlequinade ballet. The ABT will present Harlequinade at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa beginning Thursday, January 17, and Garner said, “I will be there.” For the holidays, ABT also presented The Nutcracker at the Segerstrom.

At the gala, an excerpt of Harlequinade was joyously performed by principal dancers Carlos Gonzalez (who seemed to channel a young Mikhail Baryshnikov in his Harlequin role), Sarah Lane, Stella Abrera and Thomas Forster. Other magnificent performances included an excerpt from The Nutcracker performed by Alexei Agoudine, Luis Ribagorda and Arron Scott; The Leaves Are Fading performed by Hee Seo and Cory Stearns; Don Quixote performed by Isabella Boylston and Aran Bell; and the surprising Duke Ellington-infused tap dance and ballet medley Dream Within a Dream (deferred) led by soloist Calvin Royal III.

Of course a highlight of the evening was seeing Misty Copeland with Blaine Hoven performing Jessica Lang’s Garden Blue, a mesmerizing abstract piece with music by Dvorak. It captured the magic created by great dancers. The darling of the ballet world, Copeland just made her film debut in Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

Among the VIPs attending was Nigel Lythgoe, executive producer, judge and creative force behind Fox TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, on which Copeland has been a guest judge. The show celebrates great dancers and choreographers and the joy they share.

Also happily supporting the ABT were Ginny Mancini, Sharon Lawrence, Lesley Ann Warren, Lotte Verbeek, Julie Ann Emery, Daniel Donigan and Haans Nicholas Mott. Plus, ABT Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett, Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie and Chief Advancement Officer Tim Landi. The evening’s Co-Chairs were Sarah Arison, Avery and Andrew F. Barth, Stewart R. Smith, Robin A. Ferracone and ABT Trustee Sutton Stracke, with generous support from the Lloyd E. Rigler – Lawrence E. Deutsch Foundation. The proceeds from the event goes toward ABT’s education and engagement programs, impacting more than 18,000 children annually.

After the performances the stars of the ballet company mingled with guests over desserts and champagne, with the enthused wannabe ballerina Jennifer Garner gushing praise upon the dancers.

Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 38 years. She was half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.

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