Our Man in KC: The Alvin Ailey Gala, the Lyric Opera Ball, and More!

Damian Lair at the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey Gala. Photo by Jordan Savage

A Glorious Return

Spring. The equinox signals change, emergence—a shedding of the chrysalis of winter. It is also an allegory for dance: artists emerge from the bounds of the stage and tethers of their bodies—to lift audiences.

For me, spring means having some form of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (AAADT) at their second home in Kansas City. And for the first time in six years, this world-renowned dance company graced the stage of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

Alvin Ailey first brought his groundbreaking modern dance company to Kansas City in 1968 following years of performances abroad, with the company serving as an official cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department. Two decades later, in 1984, more than one hundred Kansas City civic, corporate, and community leaders, responding to a call by Mayor Richard Berkley, founded Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey (KCFAA), cementing our city as the company’s official second home.

In addition to bringing AAADT and Ailey II to Kansas City, KCFAA has responded to other community needs by creating innovative arts education programs. KCFAA offers ten year-round youth development programs, as well as AileyCamp, the six-week summer program that was pioneered here and now serves as a model replicated in ten cities across the U.S. These education programs, which touch more than 25,000 students annually, are built on the philosophy that the skills needed to learn dance—creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication—are the same critical skills that can enrich further successes in life.

KCFAA encourages diversity of people and ideas through its organizational structure, uniting people across racial, ethnic, and social barriers to promote awareness, respect, friendship, and ultimately, community-wide social change. I am proud to serve on the KCFAA board of directors.

Culminating the joyful weekend of AAADT performances (including one reserved for area students), the company performed on Saturday evening for patrons of the annual gala benefiting Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. With sponsorships and tickets sold out mere days after invitations landed in mailboxes, it was one of the most highly sought, glittering events of the season. 

Overheard: “I’d call the look: origami Bratz doll.”

Gala patrons gathered in exuberant finery at the Kauffman Center for a 90-minute AAADT performance, including new works that juxtaposed beats by Drake and Kendrick Lamar with Renée Fleming dripping French opera. The new works were magical and felt utterly fresh and significant, like something I’ve not before experienced in Kansas City. Following intermission, we settled back into our seats for Revelations. Since its 1960 premiere, the moving masterpiece has been seen by more people worldwide than any other modern-dance work. More than 60 years later, this signature piece is no less relevant or emotion-inducing. Following the performance, I talked with numerous guests who commented that no matter how many times they see it, they cry. Admittedly, I cried, too. Tears of joy, frustration, progress . . . and hope.

Following the performance, we collectively floated to the neighboring Loews Kansas City Hotel. Inside the sparkling ballroom, we dined. We heard from the KCFAA artistic director, Tyrone Aiken, who described some of the programming opportunities he oversees and introduced a group of KCFAA studio dance students who performed for a delighted audience. 

The Janet K. Miller Award was presented to Dianne Cleaver, rightfully honoring her work as a civic leader focused on reducing disparities in health care, housing, and education—exemplifying the passion of the late Janet K. Miller.

A robust live auction ensued with packages ranging from a suite for the upcoming Beyoncé concert to a luxury vacation week in Aspen. And finally—dancing. Joined by some of the most talented dancers in the world, we all hit the dance floor with DJ Ben Rich. What we may have lacked in pedigreed talent, we made up for in spirit. 

Since its founding, the AAADT has been seen live by over 21 million people in 48 states and 71 countries on six continents. The annual event makes it possible to bring these renowned performers to Kansas City. Not just for those of us fortunate to attend a spectacular gala, but for our community, because the contributions make performing arts accessible to a broad audience. It was my honor and privilege to serve as this year’s gala co-chair alongside the infectiously joyful Jamila Weaver.

Knowing that every year, young people in Kansas City can look up at a grand stage and see people who reflect their heritage and lived experience—succeeding, excelling, daring to dream—may be the spark that propels them forward to do impossibly great things. Because they have seen with their own eyes what is possible. It is not easy to aspire to be what you don’t know and cannot see.

Spotted: Honorary Co-Chairs Peggy & Bill Lyons and Jon & Walter Porter, Ratana & Oscar Tshibanda, Dr. Michael Weaver, Marshall Miller, Ann Baum, Sharon & John Hoffman, Bunni & Paul Copaken, Maurice Watson, Ursula Terrasi & Jim Miller, Susan & Lewis Nerman, Jackie & Lynn Johnson, Ellen & Jaime Copaken, Karen & John Yungmeyer, Hilda Fuentes & Allan Gray II, Mina & Lance Steen, Helen & Frank Wewers, Kim Klein & Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, Lauren Merriman, Mark Allen Alford, Jr., Erica Crenshaw, Julie Anderson Clark, Katie Kwo Gerson, Siobhan McLaughlin-Lesley, India Boulton, Jerry Katlin & Dan DeLeon, Lauren DeLeon, Kristy Katlin, Kelly Murphy, Lynn Carlton, Tammy Edwards, Jean Paul Wong, Debbie Ballard, Lindsey Heinz, Denise & Calvin Ricks, Sheryll Myers, Jane & Keith Gard, Debbie & Jerry Williams, Dr. Marjorie Williams, Sarah Fizell, Melanie Miller, Cathy Jolly, Marcia Bailey, Troy Lillebo, Brian Ellison, Nicole Wang, Suzanne Shank, Gwen Grant, Gabe Zorogastua, Troy Moore, Lee Page, Garret Toms, Angie Jeffries, Alan Carr, Matthew Schulte, John Schuppan, Colby Oberbroeckling, Stephen Gronek, Brian Pospishil, Brad Nichols, Robert Schmidt, Hannah Shah, Chris Warman

Hot Gossip: Who was debating whether he woke up with a bad fever or had wet the bed?

Send in the Clowns

April Fool’s Day was the occasion for the annual Lyric Opera Ball, benefitting the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Inspired by the inauspicious date and the opera’s forthcoming and final production of the season, Sondheim on Sondheim, a literal clown theme was selected. Send in the Clowns, of course, is the dramatic ballad—recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Judy Collins—from Sondheim’s musical A Little Night Music. It’s a raw, personal favorite, and I cannot wait to see this upcoming opera.

The evening commenced with extensive cocktails and mingling, giving patrons ample time to overview the dizzying array of silent auction items. As a veteran gala auction chair myself, my hat goes off to Peggy Beal and Karen Yungmeyer for helming this noticeably gargantuan task. And in three years, you’ll still be calling and emailing people about picking up their won items! Amidst the auction hullabaloo was also a raffle for a 1996 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache Grand Cru Monopole—a bottle of wine valued at $6,000. Something tells me that prize will be speedily retrieved!

While dining on our strip steaks and micro shoestring potatoes, guests were served a healthy dose of remarks, speeches, and thank you’s to guests, supporters, and even family pets. Finally—the entertainment! Resident artists of the Lyric Opera, including Luke Harnish, Aubrey & Wayne Odle, Krista Renée Pape, and Joseph Park performed a diverse program of primarily Sondheim works, interspersed with opera classics. I could have listened to them pull out hits from West Side Story, Sweeny Todd, and Into the Woods all night long. But people also want to dance, so dance we did. To the ever-popular Lost Wax, I found plenty of folks willing to oblige my sudden desire to boogie. Until next year . . . 

Spotted: Drs. Karla & Ivan Batlle, Juliette Singer, Edie Downing, Mary Beth Gentry, Rachel & Dr. Nelson Sabates, Carmen Sabates, Dr. Amy Patel & Joe Rathermel, Kurt Knapstein, Amy McAnarney, Mike Sigler, Greg O’Bourney, Mary Leonida, Courtney Crappell, Karen Brown, Amanda Schuster

Overheard: “Eww. Now that the blue checkmark can be had for $15, how do I become ‘un-verified’? I don’t want anyone thinking I care that much.”

Cue the Summertime Feels

I love a good rooftop bar when the weather is cooperative. Fortunately, for a seven-month window, we’ve got ample time to enjoy Kansas City alfresco. And I’m not the only rooftop lover. There are but a tiny handful of rooftop spaces in the city, and they’re (not surprisingly) frequently at capacity. Developers—please take note! Chicago has fewer nice-weather days and exponentially more rooftop bars, relative to population. This makes me insane every time I am there. We need more rooftop spaces. But I digress.

I was super thrilled to experience the refreshed Percheron before it officially opened later that week. Perched atop the ever-chic Crossroads Hotel, it commands (possibly) the best city skyline view. 

The chef, Aaron Wells-Morgan, has revamped the rooftop food and beverage menus, just as he did last year for the hotel’s classic Italian restaurant, Lazia. Since then—over the past year—I have returned to the restaurant time after time. Every experience, dazzling. If you haven’t been, and you haven’t had the hand-pulled tableside mozzarella experience, then you must.

No surprise, I found everything on the rooftop menu to my liking. This isn’t your sliders and onion rings kinda bar. I’d describe it as refined Mediterranean: mezze platters, Lebanese hummus, ceviche, spiced lamb skewers. For a “bar menu,” it’s the absolute best Med cuisine (in addition to Extra Virgin) I’ve had in Kansas City. Period. Oh, and the dessert—the Baklava Pop—a Greek yogurt ice cream popsicle resting on phyllo shards, pistachio sauce, and local honey. Positively genius. And delicious.

Regarding cocktails, I loved the Party Pressure—matcha, St. Germain, lime, and lemon soda; I had mine made with mezcal. Delicious as it was verdant and gram-worthy. In addition to the creative cocktail offerings, there’s plenty of bubbles and a coastal wine menu as well. Now open for the season!

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A week later, and on the other side of downtown, I dropped into the first-of-the-season Garment District Grooves concert series, organized by KC Parks & Recreation. Every third Wednesday through October, rotating performers and food trucks will occupy Garment District Place on Broadway, between 7th and 8th Streets. It’s an adorable (if not underappreciated) pocket park that I happened to neighbor for the first eight years I lived in Kansas City. I distinctly remember it being an idyllic spot for journaling and creating intentions.

On this day, though, it was far too lively for serious thinking. Two brothers, Payton and Finn, performing as ItsMurf Music, were breathing new life and energy into the typically bucolic urban refuge. The fingerstyle guitar duo covered the likes of Hall & Oates, The Eagles, and Willie Nelson. As I unwound from a morning at work, I grabbed lunch from this month’s food truck, Chilakillers. Who can argue with chilaquiles, street corn, quesadillas, tortas, nachos, and tacos? And Mexican sodas to boot. When I closed my eyes, it almost felt like I was in Puerto Vallarta, placing an incomprehensible 4 a.m. group order with a street taco vendor on our walk back home. Well—almost. Though the Chilakillers tacos were Mexico-good.

Wonder what’s on the agenda for the next six months? The full schedule is available on the KC Parks website. Some upcoming notable performers include Max Groove, Bill Abernathy, and jazz with Stan Kessler & Friends. And on the food side there’s Julita’s, Ragusa Italian Cafe, and The Urban Knife on deck. I’m looking forward to downtown summer lunches in the park.

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