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Nutcracker Ball

| Monday, Nov. 10, 2003

Ah, the one, the only, the Nutcracker Ball. Like the ballet itself, this black-tie has been a gem since its first pirouette on the social scene in 1996. And, by Herr Drosselmeier's mustache, Saturday's pas de do was pure enchantment.

Although arriving swanks were as charmed by the welcoming promenade of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre students as the Pitt football fans crowding the Omni William Penn lobby, the scene changed to a fairy-tale setting once the elevators opened to the 17th floor. Toe and behold, a costumed cast of tiny bumblebees, toy soldiers, sheep and tots from a host of ballets frolicked through cocktails and the lavish silent auction.

Merely a prelude, I tell you, for the main attraction. Enter PBT's principal ballerinas and danseurs to command the dance floor with dazzling artistry and oeuvres dating back 35 seasons. They were showered with bouquets, bravos and bravissimas in showstoppers from Tchaikovsky's classical Black Swan adagio to Sting's seductive "Every Breath you Take." Of course, when the eighth-largest ballet company in the country plays its trump card, they are masters of their domain. Not to put too fine a pointe on it, but the eve raised $190,000.

Glamour is back with a capital G, and the ladies went for it in killer bijoux and gowns that were long and luxe, slinky and body-baring and, at long last, in color. The ballroom gleamed so with garlands of lights and a forest of orchids on tabletops by Blossoms & Wicks. If guests looked up from the wining and dining that was nothing short of sumptuous, there was Cleveland's great-sounding Special Effect band perched in the balcony. After dinner, they pumped up the amps and turned the ball into a boogie night.

Leading the glitter brigade were ball chairs Steve McKnight and Peggy, in a fab creamy slip of a gown with a beaded gold shrug; PBT prez Hal Waldman and divine Diane, wearing Name Dropper's iridescent silk gown with lace appliques; former ball chairs Barbara and David Dick , Drs. Ellen ( quel necklace) and Loren Roth, Bev and Steve Elliott , from Florida came Jim Johnson and Susan, in a smashing ivory gown by Badgley Mischka with daughter Jocelyn of NYC, and Carol and Jim McCarl (a Pitt trustee, he arranged for a TV set tuned to the game in a nearby room!); and PBT's grandest dame, Patricia Wilde .

Who was among the 450 other swelegants• Who wasn't• Let's start with Respironics' John Miclot and Kathleen; Herb Torbin and Becky, wearing a knockout Helen Morley strapless gown in pewter lace, with children Jessica and Drew Torbin of Colorado; Carolyn and Bill Byham with Tacy , a vision in aqua organza; Susan and Dave Matter; Ruby and Dr. James Kang ; U.S. Congresswoman Melissa Hart; Dottie and Fred Beard in from Hilton Head; Mariann and Stan Geyer ; state Rep. Bill DeWeese; Jeanne and Rob Gleason with daughter Jane; Frances and Jim Hardie; Sally and Don Foster ; PBT's Terry Orr and Mariana Tcherkassy with Keitha and Steven Libman; Ellen and Tom Golonski ; and Pam and Ken McCrory .

As well as Debbie Dick, wearing a stunning midnight blue organza edged in pink by Sylvia Heisel; Charlene and Dr. Michael Barnett; James Guttman and Sarah, in a mink-trimmed black lace by Name Dropper; Jane Treherne-Thomas and Bill Dietrich; Susan and Jim Morris; Melanie and Eric Werner; Linda Dickerson; Sue and Dick Wyatt; Gary Gentile and Jean, wearing a knockout purple silk by Thierry Mugler; Kristin Wagner and Joe Murphy; Hilary Tyson; Diane and Richard Tito; Tom Flannery and Stephanie in a backless red silk Iman slink; David Ehrenwerth and Judy in a fab pale blue and beaded Badgley Mischka; Helen and Daniel Hoey ; and Toni and John Ghaznavi .

This fete had feet.

Strange and familiar

Do break• Do swing• Do hit• These words are unheard of in a don't-touch museum. But they echo throughout Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life . A table that becomes a chair, a chair that turns into a bed and a jacket that unzips to a flying kite are to be found among the witty, offbeat and marvelously challenging do-touch projects in the Carnegie's Heinz Architectural Center. While one gallery admires confounding objects that inspire, Very Familiar: Celebrating 50 Years of Collecting Decorative Arts in the other lingers over wondrous objects of desire.

Art lovers are not only rejoicing over the unveiling of the Scaife Galleries after a yearlong renovation, but the bold and beautiful exhibits that previewed at Friday's Founder-Patrons Day black-tie, a long-standing favorite of the red-carpet set.

Gail Murphy , there with Tom of Jendoco Construction, chaired the gala for 260 local biggies in the Hall of Architecture. There is no other venue in town that has the drop-dead dazzlement of this space, and the committee played to it with cunning design. White roses and spider mums in either (pause) recycled newspaper containers or a series of small glass jars floated over shimmering pearl grey cloths as orchestrated by Jeff Pierce of Toadflax. Parkhurst Dining served a comforting grilled filet or steamed sea bass crowned by an indulgent pumpkin creme brulee. And the after-party infused the gallery hop with the young and restless as the night roared on.

If a soiree is only as transcendent as its guest list, check out these notables: Mellon Bank chair Marty McGuinn and Ann (Mellon sponsored the party); Toto and Jim Fisher ; The Carnegie chair Suzy Broadhurst; Milt Fine and Sheila, in a stunning gown of red chinoisserie and black lace; Betsy Hurtt and Doug Branson; Jacqui and Jeff Morby; Sylvia and Don Robinson; Vi, Joe, Teri and Damian Soffer; Richard Armstrong; Peggy and Max King; Bonnie and Tom VanKirk ; CMA's chief curator Sarah (in her aluminum birthday tiara) Nichols with HAC's Ray Ryan and Strangely Familiar curator Andrew Blauvelt of the Walker Art Center; CMA chair Marcia Gumberg and Stanley ; the Frick's Bill Bodine; Beth Smith; Tricia and Bill Kassling; Ranny and Jay Ferguson; Karen and Ed Linder; Susanne and Jim Wilkinson; Lea Simonds and Harley Trice ; and Pam Bryan .

Of course, Carnegie prez Ellsworth Brown and Dottie were there; as were Lou and Henry Gailliot ; Women's Committee prexy Janet Hunt with Bill; Aaronel and Irv Gruber; Dolly and Curt Ellenberg; Julie and Mike Dever; Suanna Rockwell ; the Warhol's Tom Sokolowski; Lu and Syl Damianos; Katie and Mark Gaier; Minnette Bickel; Tom Kaplan and mother Joan, admiring her antique server in the VFamiliar show; Shirley Blaxter; Lee Gordon; Lois Pruitt and Cynthia McCormick; Robin and Jim Dannahower; Joanie and Sam Kamin; Sue and Dave Barnes; Silvia and Alex Speyer; Felicia and Mark Bennett ; newlyweds Carolyn Ellis and Charlie Masterson; Jo-Anne Bates; Sigrid Simonson and Rob Manwaring in from Long Beach; Judy Grauer; Jenifer and Mark Evans; Nanette and Ira Gordon; Tey Stiteler, Lulu Lippincott and Maureen Rolla celebrating their fab 50th.

Also lighting up the galleries was former decorative arts curator David Owsley , now living in Manhattan, who was besieged by fans. He's very familiar.

Night at the races

The checkered flag came down on racing great Chip Ganassi at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh's corporate roast. Time and place was Wednesday at the Omni William Penn ballroom, and the verbal bloodletting was at its meanest best.

From the fastest rookie qualifier at the 1982 Indy 500 to laying the foundation of one of today's most dominant sports dynasties, Chip grew up in Fox Chapel with a need for speed. Pole positions have taken his teams to the racing capitals of the world, but his finish line is always Pittsburgh. Now you know why we call him a champion.

Roastmaster Jim Rohr , PNC chair/CEO, presided over life in the fast lane with his, er, spit crew: Chip's wheel-to-wheel competitor Roger Penske (he surprised BBBS with a $10K gift, which Chip matched on the spot!), Pitt Chancellor Mark Nordenberg , lawyers Bill Pietragallo and Dan Shapira , and a hilarious stint by PNC prez Sy "hot wheels" Holzer as emcee. The demolition derby was great fun, and Chip gave nearly as good as he got to his former friends.

PNC Bank was at the wheel, which means the eve was a classy drive with tables named for speedways and rosy centerpieces spiked with checkered flags by Z Florist. The wine and dine was fine from the get-go, and we were up to our axles in a killer dessert buffet afterwards.

In the winner's circle, we spotted Chip's gorgeous bride, Cara with folks Marie and Floyd ("my hero") Ganassi ; his racing partner Felix Sabates and Carolyn in from Charlotte, N.C.; Indy 500's Mike Hull; Dave Namey ; BBBS board chair Kenny Ross (he founded the chapter!) with son Jimmy and director Wally Jenkins with Laura; Eddie Lewis ; Pirates' Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield; Lou Astorino; Bev Elliott; Corky Cost; Debbie and Mike Barbarita; Ellen and Dr. Stan Marks; Nancy and Dick Zappala; Rick DeNunzio; David Hunter ; 2003 national Big Sister Christa Washington; Patrice King Brown; Dave Malone; Tom Hardiman; Dick Barton; Patty and Jim Carroll; Duff McCrady; Mary Anne and Hoddy Hanna; Venetia and Gary Torre; Brigette Pavlik and Bill Kolano; Bob McCutcheon; Lisa Raymond; David and Margie Oliver Marshall; Brooks Broadhurst; John Weinstein; Steve Del Sole ; and Barney Olfield .

Bottom Line: The largest, at 300 guests, and most successful roast in its 24-year history raised more than $180,000 to continue BBBS mentoring programs with the swell Bigs who shape and enrich the lives of the needy Littles.

Super Bowl style

NOTE: Each Monday morning, Fanfare reports on the city's best and brightest galas. Yet, even during these celebrations, life's harsh realities can intrude without warning.

Moments before the start of the Steelers Fashion Show, an audience member, Audrey Kontul, collapsed suddenly at her table. Despite the immediate-response city paramedics who administered CRP, she passed away.

We offer our deepest condolences to Ms. Kontul's family and friends. We also express our admiration for all those who unselfishly came to her aid.

Maybe hubby Art II calls the shots from the front office, but the always-gorgeous Greta Rooney quarterbacked the action during Wednesday's Steelers Style 2003 Fashion Show at the Pittsburgh Hilton. Trading their Sunday best black-and-gold togs for designer threads from Lazarus-Macy's and the Fur Gallery, past and present gridiron greats such as Joey Porter, Antwaan Randle El, Hines Ward and Andy Russell prowled the catwalk to benefit the Cancer Caring Center and the UPMC South Side Orthopedic Center. And did they ever score.

From the first quarter to the fourth, the 700-plus mostly female fans cheered as their football faves blitzed the runway. Sharing the spotlight with the Men of Steel were their significant others and tots in ensembles that ranged from decidedly casual to strictly formal. All-Pro fashion plates included QB Tommy Maddox with Jennifer as well as Kacy and Colby; Jerome Bettis and Trameka Boykin; Deshea Townsend and daughter Shaylon; Charlie Batch; Jason and Joy Gildon with Jason Jr., King and Justus; Lee Mays; Mark and Traci Brunner with their four youngsters; Chris Hope; Kimo and Tondi von Oelhoffen with a trio of daughters; and Lee Mays .

On hand for the sartorial Super Bowl were Cancer Caring Center's Rebecca Whitlinger ; UPMC's Dr. Chris Harner and Cindy; Kaye Cowher; Susie Johnson; Leslie and Tony Quatrini; Toni and Jimmie Sacco ; Lazarus GM Bob Balanti and Hope; Mary Beth and Dave Johnson; Cindy and Roger Barnes; Sheila Brown; Jim and Cindy Dankowski with Elliot and Katie; Kathy DiGioia with Noell and Maria ; Drs. Janis Reed and Marc Hoffman; Anna Barch; Emily Bruer; Bob Pompeani; Michelle Michaels; Jamie Bombach; Kelli Thompson; Sandee Kozel ; and Kelly Lauer .

-- John Altdorfer

Piano man

He loved a "Calendar Girl" and heard "Laughter in the Rain." He understood that "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." And Saturday, Neil Sedaka played "Solitaire" during the Ladies Hospital Aid Society Gala at the Westin Convention Center hotel.

Of course, many of the 350 black-ties in the audience remembered when the singer-songwriter topped the charts with a string of doo-wop confections in the pre-Fab Four days of rock 'n' roll. But the trip down memory lane also paved the road for the future as the LHAS bash benefits the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Foundation at the University of Pittsburgh, where life-saving research is just what the doctor ordered.

Although Christmas is still weeks away, Bonnie Walker Chirigos decked the halls with a Moulin Rouge-inspired motif that was tres ooh-la-la. We did catch a few gents sneaking off for reports on the Panthers' progress at Heinz Field, but most partygoers happily twisted the night away to the boss sounds of Gary Racan and the Studio-E Band. And the beat went on.

Spotted singing along at this stunning soiree were party chair Barb Adelson with Dr. David ; LHAS prez June Yonas with Sanford Pollock ; honorary chairs Joy and Dr. Tom Starzl; Dee Dee and Mark Troutman; Marcia Weiss; Pat Siger; Hattye and Dr. George Board; Nancy and Bill Rackoff; Ellen and Dr. David Geller; Reva and Mel Heimowitz; Ed Stein; Susie Katz; Jackie and Abe Sambol; Clyde Jones; Ruth Rubenstein and Clinton Lando; Penny and Chuck Alpern; Erica Burten and Dr. Dan Hochman; Joanie and Sam Kamin; Bill Ceroni and Richard Stuart; Stephanie and Ted Davis with Ariela; Rhoda and Dick Neft; Tony Merzlak ; and Penina and Marvin Lieber .

A No. 1 hit.

-- J.A.

Wheel uppers

Think no one's indispensable• Think again, because, as Meals on Wheels volunteers can tell you, theirs are often the only smiling faces our homebound elderly and disabled see on a regular basis.

One of the oldest and certainly the largest such program in the country, the Lutheran Service Society opened the first MoW in 1968 on the North Side to serve 17 persons. Last year, snow or shine, 5,000 volunteers delivered 2.2 million meals from 78 community-based kitchens to more than 8,000 persons ... no matter their ability to pay the $18 weekly cost. Do I hear jaws dropping?

We reserve our highest kudos for those foodies with a conscience who make it possible. Like those in the crowd of 350 guests celebrating MoW's 35th anniversary at the Hilton. Although Thursday's rains delayed Murry Gerber 's flight, the More Than a Meal Gala tapped Equitable Resources, the firm he chairs, as corporate champion for its cadre of year-round volunteers.

The throng included LSS chair Ron Anderson and prez Dennis McAndrew; Marilyn and Lynn Landis ; emcee Sally Wiggin of WTAE-TV; benefit chair Maree Gallagher ; PMI's David Case, who created (and donated) the profoundly moving video that was aired; event coordinator Susie Franklin (also donating her services); ER's Estelle Christian; Mildred Morrison; Susan and Dave Lohr; Michelle and Ben Jamieson; Liz and Mark Miner; Rob Shema; Randy Detwiler; Robert Sprague ; and hizzoner Tom Murphy , a 22-year MoW volunteer.

Quick Takes

  • Duquesne University Women's Advisory Board knows it takes money to train budding musicians and even greater sums to hone the talents of those with the greatest promise. For 50 years, these damsels have awarded a major gift to a senior in DU's Mary Pappert Schol of Music. At their elegant annual Scholarship Dinner Dance in the Duquesne Club on Saturday, 150 black-ties were thrilled by the amazing virtuosity of cellist Anne Berry , this year's awardee.

    Among the music majors were benefit chair Terri Hastings with Don ; co-chair Judy Stalder with Jim; Kathy and John Connelly; Liz and Dr. John Murray ; WAB prexy Mary O'Day and Jim; Janet and David Pappert; Maureen and Tom O'Brien; Mary Jane and Carl Grefenstette; Linda and Tony Bucci; Ann and Dr. George Magovern ; DU Music School dean Dr. Edward Kocher and Kamie Schoonhoven ; and Malcolm Hamilton .

  • The quality of mercy was not strained at Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and Foundation's Evening of Promise gala at the Hilton. At the heart of Saturday's black-tie to benefit MercyCare was the promise made by the hospital's founding Sisters of Mercy 156 years ago. A commitment that PMHS continues to honor; last year they delivered $24 million in free care to our area's neediest citizens.

    Highlighting the fete for 400 was the ceremony bestowing the Quality of Mercy award to Catholic Bishop Donald Wuerl (accepted by Rev. Kris Stubna ) and the hospital's Dr. Frank Luparello . Standouts included BPMFoundation chair Jack McGinley and Nancy ; PMHS chair Harry Goern and Camille ; emcee Mike Clark of WTAE-TV; Peggy and Dr. Charles Copeland ; Srs. Patricia Mary Hespelein and Ignatius Rooney ; gala co-chair Dr. John Brungo and Judy; Elizabeth and Penn Krause; Dee and Tom Murrin ; and Alberta and Walt Furlong .

  • The eagle landed at Friday's high-flying preview for the Wings & Wildlife Art Show at our National Aviary. This year's exhibit featured renowned scratchboard artist Francis Sweet of Bowie, Md., who accompanied his exquisite canvases of birds and other wildlife. W&W showcases the works of 35 artists and it's a magnet for nature lovers.

    Crystallizing the tempo was Life in Balance's mood music played on crystal bowls, a bountiful graze and the mingle with some of our fine feathered friends by such birders as NA director Dayton Baker; Eileen and Michael Flinn; Elaine and Frank Carbone; Patti Rambasek and Rik Laird ; benefit chairs Divina Baratta and Tiffany Sander ; and artists Joanie DeSimone, Bob Culver and Jocelyn Beatty .

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