WEDNESDAY MUSINGS: JOFFREY BALLET CHICAGO

imageThe Joffrey Ballet Chicago’s Nutcracker comes to the Auditorium Theater on   December 1 and performs through December 30.

I have always had a passion for ballet and took ballet for many years, I must admit every time I see a ballet performed I am on pointe up on the stage, well at least in my mind’s eye! Perhaps it is my Russian heritage and perhaps I have a ballet gene or perhaps it is because my Father had the privilege of seeing both Pavlova and Nijinsky.  I can remember the many, many times sitting on my Father’s lap (and eventually having my own seat) with huge eyes loving every pirouette, pas de deux, the music, the magnificent sets, and the costumes, all of it! It has been my pleasure to see many of the world-renowned dancers from the Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo, Sadler’s Wells, American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, and, most importantly our very own Joffrey Ballet! All these companies performed in Chicago and I saw both New York companies in New York as well and the Joffrey when it was in NYC.

My first encounter with the Joffrey was many years ago when they made their first performances in Chicago. my friend, Barbara Varro, who was with the Sun-Times at the time, was assigned to write a story about Mr. Joffrey and Mr. Arpino and we went back stage after their performances of The Green Table and Trinity (still my favorite of all their repertoire!) and either that year or another season we saw Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs premiere which was costumed by the late great Oscar de la Renta!  Brilliant in all respects.  Being in the dressing rooms and on stage of The Auditorium was extraordinary and guess what I did it again last Sunday….let me explain.

I wanted to see Giselle and the only available date I had was the last performance the matinee on Sunday.  Fortunately my dear friends, Brian Smith and Geyer Morford, wanted to attend, yet again, and went with me, after a lovely brunch at Cochon Volant.  All  I can tell you is that I was as wide eyed as I was when sitting with my Father…it was magnificent and the performances were a world premiere of Lola de Ávila’s adaptation for the Joffrey…you can be sure it won’t be the last time it is performed by this amazing company. The production was flawless and a perfect tribute to Artistic Director, Ashley Wheater, who is celebrating his 10th anniversary with The Joffrey Ballet Chicago! www.joffrey.org

imageChristine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez

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Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili

imageThe Joffrey Ballet Chicago Corps de Ballet

After I caught my breath we went back stage, nothing more magical then looking out at the house, which is breathtakingly beautiful from every possible view, Sullivan most certainly knew how to do buildings exquisitely…and bumped into Ashley anther treat for my day.  Saw a couple of the ballerinas greeting their little admirers…ah memories!  I am so fortunate to have the Executive Director, Greg Cameron, Chief Marketing Officer, Brian Smith and former Joffrey dancer, Michael Anderson as my special friends and to call Ashley a new friend as well….lucky Nena!

To continue it’s 2017-2018 season The Joffrey presents it’s sensational adaptation of The Nutcracker which premiered last year in a production choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.  The Ballet journeys inside Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, a fascinating concept and truly a spectacular, it not surprisingly opened to rave reviews, an annual must-see for all ages. I must admit I was a bit skeptical, the original Joffrey production was one of the best I have ever seen and I have seen many really great ones.  I needed not to have worried the new production exceeds all expectations.  Get you tickets immediately!!!!

imageimageScenes from The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker is one of my all time favorites, isn’t it everyone’s….for several years Saks Fifth Avenue did a series of Platinum events for our top clients and they could choose from several offerings of events you couldn’t buy and they were limited to 10 couples, one of which was the Joffrey’s performance of The Nutcracker at the Rosemont Theater before they officially became The Joffrey Ballet Chicago.  After the performance we had a sit-down dinner in a private room at the Theater and seated one or two of the performers and Mr. Arpino at each the tables (Michael Anderson recalls being one of the dancers in attendance).  I had authentic German Nutcrackers as the centerpieces and each guest received one as their parting gift.  I must admit the evening was a huge success.

Coming in Spring 2018 Modern Masters, February 7-18 and Midsummer Night’s DreamApril 25-May 6 and a very exciting Fall program to be announced in the near future.

How fortunate we are to have The Joffrey Ballet Chicago as part of our amazing cultural scene, this year has been a year of announcements for The Joffrey, their announcement of their move to The Lyric Opera House in 2020 (they came to Chicago in 1995).  Ashley’s 10th Anniversary, the upcoming The Nutcracker Behind the Scenes documentary on Thursday, November 16 at 8:00 on WTTW www.wttw.com/nutcracker

Chicago loves its culture and particularly its ballet, lucky us that The Joffrey decided to make Chicago home…can’t even begin to wait to see what is in store for this world class dance company!

All photos for nenasnotes courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet Chicago.

Photos by Cheryl Mann

 

 

PROFILE: ME!!!

imageThe sketch is for some anniversary and by a dear friend……..

I hope you don’t think I am being very self-centered in profiling myself, I thought it would be a fun exercise to answer my own questionnaire.  You already know so much about me, my likes, my obsessions, highlights of my career, etc. but perhaps, just perhaps, I can give you a bit more insight into Nena!

Here goes….

WHEN WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOUR TALENT AND HOW DID THAT PASSION BRING YOU TO WHERE YOU ARE NOW:

I don’t know that I would call my career talent so let’s say when did I realize what I wanted to do…I always knew I wanted to be in “fashion” I just didn’t know what part of it.  Did I want to model, be a designer, be in public relations, advertising, or what!!!???  I had been on many “high school” boards during school both downtown and in Evanston.  That intensified my interest.  Being the daughter of a commercial artist I was very familiar with advertising.  I had begun sewing as soon as I could hold a needle (Mom gave me a beautiful sterling silver thimble with cloisonne on it, I could never use it, can’t stand the sound of the needle hitting the metal of the thimble!) Evanston Township High School offered a dress design course in the art department, (the head of the department was a dress designer at heart) my Junior Year.  I loved the class and did so well I was asked if I wanted to take it again for my Senior Year and do what ever I liked…I did!  I never modeled, but did teach modeling at a local “charm” school while I was in high school…loved doing that.  One day, when I was a Senior in high school I put on my hat and gloves (yes, you heard that correctly) got on the bus and went downtown.  For some unknown reason I felt one needed to know retail before you could do anything else in the business, after all that is where the product ends.  We usually shopped at Marshall Field’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, the first stop on the bus route downtown was Saks.  I got off at Erie and Michigan and went to the Personnel Office (AKA Human Resources), interviewed (lied about my age) and got the job selling in “Debutante Sportswear”…what I thought would be a summer job became a career!  By the way, during that year I found I was a very good sales person, no magic formula just treat people the way you want to be treated and keep up with the trends.  The working title of the book is “A Hell of a Long Summer Job!”  Luck, being in the right place at the right time, the Personnel Director believing in me….who will ever know.  I have taught in all the local fashion schools and have been at Columbia College Chicago for many years, I love to teach and see my students grow and learn more about an industry that I am passionate about  I am still doing lectures, an occasion fashion show and, my new passion, NENASNOTES.

WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD MADE IT:

When I got the job in the Fashion Office and each and every day for the 53 years, where did they go….I knew that it was, in my opinion, a perfect fit.  I always thought I had the perfect job with the best retailer in the world, I still feel that way. I wanted to be one of one and not one of thousands in New York or elsewhere.  The job grew through the years and, of course, changed not only with fashion but with technology.  I happen to love to work with figures as well as knowing what garments to show to each audience, and adding technology just enhanced the job.  In retail you must be very, very open to change.

imageFashion Group International Chicago Gala, given in my honor, in the Ballroom at the Chicago Hilton (one of the most glamorous and magnificent rooms anywhere!!!!) My wonderful models and I didn’t have to dress them!!!  I have profiled 8 of them…let’s hope I can get more to participate, they all have such wonderful stories to tell. Photo courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.

WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN YOUR ALTERNATE CHOICE AS A CAREER….WAS THERE ONE?

I firmly believe you need to love what you do you or you will be miserable.  Having said that, I have always wanted to have a independent bookstore/tearoom/needlepoint shop or a bed and breakfast, but instead I am a blogger, who knew!

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MOVIES, BOOKS, THEATER (IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE) TYPE OF MUSIC

Movies: I am particularly found of Musicals, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films in particular, all the 1940’s musicals and, of course, My Fair Lady and Gigi. love them. Recently found LaLa Land charming. I adore Film Noir and The Thin Man series. My most favorite film is Gone With The Wind, in my opinion, everyone was brilliantly and perfectly cast.  Love all the original Disney films, especially Fantasia.  Of course, any fashion documentary or films based on fashion personalities or fashion in general…what could ever top the original 1939, The Women.  Obviously, I could go on and on and on……I do love a good movie.

Books: I devour books, always have.  I couldn’t take gym in school so I lived in my school library.  The Evanston Public School system has amazing schools not only in their teaching but in their buildings.  My grammar school, Oakton, had incredible mosaic tiles (I’m sure they still do, note to self must do a visit!) and it was not only a place that set all of us on the right track with reading, writing and arithmetic…but also with art….and in my case an even greater love of books.  My home was filled with books and I was read to from birth and then read to myself as soon as I could.  Hard to choose one book…Let me mention these authors rather than one book….not in any order: Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie, Virginia Wolff.  Current authors, Louise Penny, Charles Finch, Charles Todd, Cara Black (a review on her new book next week!).  Genres: most English Mysteries (don’t like thrillers, horror or fantasy), novels based on historical figures (concentrating on artists and authors) and, of course, fashion books….it seems to be my goal to own every fashion book printed (I have around 1000 now!)

Theater: 1. Musical Theater 2. Legitimate Theater 3. Ballet 4. Opera 5. Symphony

Type of Music: A very long list (basically the only types of music I’m really not into are Hip Hop, Rap and Country) Here goes….Frank Sinatra, Broadway cast albums, Stanley Paul and his Orchestra (or just him playing piano!), old time Rock and Roll, Simply Red, Adele, Bobby Short, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, anything Gershwin, Porter, The American Songbook, Jazz, Chopin, Mozart, Strauss, etc. etc etc.

YOUR HOME:  Very eclectic, a mix of antiques, Randolph Street Market finds, www.randolphtreetmarket.com, lots of art, needlepoint (mine), layers of textiles (in particular, paisley shawls and crazy quilts) and lots and lots of lily of the valley pieces! And, of course, stacks and stacks of books. I guess we could call it Boho!  I have shown you many of my collections more to come.

RESTAURANTS:  Everest would be #1 without question, I have never had anything less than a spectacular meal there and Chef Joho has done many special occasion dinners for me! Les Nomades, RL, Deca at the Ritz Carlton, Shanghai Terrace at the Peninsula, Sophie’s at Saks, The Dearborn, Shaw’s, RM Champagne Salon, Kiki’s, Pelago, Uncle Julio’s and Su Casa, RH Three Arts Club Cafe, I’m very fond of Alpana Singh’s restaurants, just about any steakhouse in the City and anywhere I can get a good hamburger and, of course, any Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, Rich Melman is a genius!  I’m a foodie, also am fond of a great glass (or two) of wine and I love the wonderful variety we have, the food is, of course, important but the atmosphere and who you are with are primary.  Love, love, love all the roof “top” terraces we now have, they are amazing.  In addition, all our wonderful private clubs.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLACES THAT YOU HAVE TRAVELED AND WHERE DO YOU WANT TO GO:

I spent many vacations in New York and I adore it to this day…I am an Urbanite and love, love, love big cities, including my home town of Chicago, you do realize that Chicago has CHIC in it! Next would be London and the English Countryside.  Then Paris, I have only been once so can’t really talk about it as much as I would like.  I adore New Orleans, would have, in another life lived there.  Stratford, Ontario Canada, not only for it’s theater but for it’s atmosphere and it’s fabulous restaurants, again I would live there in a minute.  I was fortunate to travel to Russia several years ago and it was a major epiphany…Moscow in particular, magnificent…The Hermitage in Saint Petersburg wasn’t bad either!!!  Where would I like to go…Marrakesh, Cairo, India and China, back to Paris and England.  I do love a cruise, I would sail on the Queen Mary II any day of the week.  A cruise to South America or the Mediterranean would be nice, any offers!!!!???? Oh, I almost forgot, The Orient Express. I had better pack my bags…..

FAVORITE CHICAGO STREET ART:  Oh my, yet another toughie…I’m going to “cop” out and say our architecture, we are, after all, the birth place of modern architecture.  Aren’t we lucky to have ALL the magnificent pieces not only outside but inside public and private buildings.  I will be doing many posts on our street art.

WHO WOULD YOU HAVE AT YOUR FANTASY DINNER PARTY AND WHAT WOULD YOU SERVE…

I am going to take “author’s” license and do a dinner party of 20 (not the 10 to 12 I have allotted my other Profiles to have!) at one long “King” table in the Chicago Rooms at the Chicago History Museum www.chicagohistory.org and change seats between the second and third course, not the heads of the table but the two sides…there will be a seating plan, could be fun…and then for after dinner with demi-tasse, cordials and sweets we will all move into another room and be at 5 tables of 4, also seated and again with different people than for dinner, for more intimate conversations.  Stanley Paul and his Orchestra will play only my favorite standards and Frank Sinatra will entertain us with a few songs!  Perhaps we can get Coco, Fred, Cole and Stephen to join in!!!  Heaven.

The Guest List (in alphabetical order):

Fred Astaire

Cecil Beaton

Gabrielle Chanel

Christian Dior

Carl Faberge

Lucile Duff Gordon

Christian Lacroix

Française Lasage

Norman Norell

Irving Penn

Paul Poiret

Cole Porter

Stephen Sondheim

James Tissot

Diana Vreeland

Vita Sackville-West

Else de Wolff

Virginia Wolff

My Father (at one end of the table)

Me (at the other end of the table)

My favorite caterer would supervise the dinner, with Ruthie, my Mother, overseeing all details, I think Flora Danica as the china, why not (both would prefer being “off stage” and they would join us for the “after-party”)…the menu would be :

Cristal champagne before, during and after!!!!!

Cold beef consomme topped with sour cream and chives

Cold poached lobster

(Everyone changes seats here with another glass of champagne)

Choice of Beef Wellington (my recipe) or Salmon en Croute with seasonal vegetables

Micro greens with Tom Mantel’s secret vinaigrette salad dressing

Baked Alaska (my recipe)

HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED:  Wow, that is a very difficult question…to answer and not sound full of oneself…I guess a person who used her career producing fashion shows, special events, chairing galas and being president of many boards, to not only raise substantial funding for many, many organizations, but more importantly to raise awareness of those causes.

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Some of the world renowned designers who came to the benefit of the Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago Place opening September 1990.  The black tie event benefited five charities, Beverly Blettner, seated behind Bob Mackie. was the over-all chair of the event.  Beverly and I worked on numerous events together.  The designers from left to right: Adolfo, Carolina Herrera, Pauline Trigere and Bob Mackie, all of whom I worked with on numerous events.  I have profiled Pauline, I will do in depth Fashion Flashbacks on the others in coming weeks. Photo courtesy of the Nena Ivon Archives at Columbia College Chicago.

WEDNESDAY MUSINGS: WE CAN TURN BACK TIME

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I decided to watch the Billboard Awards Sunday evening, actually forgoing other programs that held more interest to me but I did what I tell my students to do “expose and educate yourself about things you that you don’t know too much about”…in this case current musical performers.  So there I was watching people perform and receive awards that I had really never heard about. yes, I know John Legend, Lorde, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Ed Sheeran, The Weekend, etc. but many I didn’t know nor will I be adding them to my playlist.  I can, in fact, tell you I would sit through the evening many times over just to see Celine Dion and most importantly the one, the only Cher!!!!  Amazing performance and look, I am all about not discussing age but seriously to look and sound like that at 71…no words!!!

Okay, you know I’m going to have a story to tell you about the first time I saw and heard Sonny and Cher…it was in the fall of 1964, no one had ever heard of them.  Let me start at the beginning of this story,  each summer, for many years, all the major stores in Chicago had College Boards. I was in charge of the department (at the beginning I was younger than most of the girls on the Board, they never knew that!) and I personally would interview the young ladies (we didn’t have any young men on the Boards) and would choose six to eight to work in our Debutante Sportswear Collections (now Contemporary Sportswear or whatever it is called today) on the Fifth Floor of Saks Fifth Avenue at the 669 North Michigan Avenue location.  I did a mix of schools, some local, some small, some large, an Ivy League or two, etc. and the young ladies worked as sales associates to assist their peers in selecting their college wardrobes. Often the colleges gave incoming students a list of what they needed to have as they began their college adventures much like going off to camp!  They wore very chic  (and pricey) “uniforms” to identify them from the other sales associates and to be easily spotted on the selling floor.  We set up a special boutique on the floor and pulled merchandise from all over the store, along with accessories, shoes, etc. (there was actually a lower price and younger shoe department on the floor as well).  Each store had its own group and many had much larger groups, such as Marshall Field’s and Carson Pirie Scott and Company, Chas A. Stevens, The Fair and on and on.

You are thinking, okay Nena has finally gone mad what in the world does this have to do with Sonny and Cher…well I’m getting to that…at the end of the summer, just before everyone was heading back to school The Chicago Tribune hosted a huge party, as I recall at the Sherman House (long gone), in a large banquet hall on the lower level of the Hotel.  Each store lined up and their Boards were introduced as they paraded into the hall in their uniforms.  Field’s had dozens of girls and in we came with our six or eight, I must say we always looked extremely fashion forward!  The Tribune always had entertainment, lovely refreshments and brief remarks to send everyone off to their various campuses. image

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When the entertainment was announced out came a unique looking couple, I can’t really say Hippies more like two waifs that had been living in a cabin in the woods.  Totally covered in fur, patterned shirts, and jeans.  The female with luxurious long black hair and gleaming eyes and the male almost elf-like in his manner.  The room was unprepared for them and became quite still. They approached the stage and began to sing I’ve Got You Babe, needless to say, the crowd erupted, it was magic.  50 some years later it still gives me a chill to think about it.   If I Could Turn Back Time……would I, I’ll let you be the judge of that!!!! With Cher still dazzling us who needs to!