Donna Karan and her Urban Zen foundation know seemingly no bounds when it comes to hosting events that educate New Yorkers on cultural enlightenment. Thursday night, for instance, the designer helped inculcate the likes of Candace Bushnell and Charles Askegard, Doo Ri Chung, Christian Cota, Zani Gugelmann, Keira Chaplin and actresses Jennifer Esposito and Nora Zehetner into the ways of the Shen Yun Performing Arts, on the opening night of the troupe’s four-day stint at Lincoln Center.
Donna Karan with Nora Zehetner
Shen Yun is a New York based group, formed in 2006 with the goal of reviving classical Chinese dance, singing and music. Since their inception they have toured the world and even performed earlier this year at the London Coliseum for an audience that included HRH Princess Micheal of Kent, HRH Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke of York and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.
The crowd gathered at the David H. Koch Theatre was a bit more, shall we say, mixed. There was one royal in the crowd, Prince Dmitri of Yugoslavia, who stood up to greet Salman Rushdie and his delicate date. Kelly Rutherford made an entrance carrying a mini black Hermès Kelly bag (so clever, right?) along with her date’s hand, while Paulina Porizkova arrived with her two nattily dressed, shaggy haired sons and her equally shaggy husband Ric Ocasek of The Cars.
The show’s start time was delayed thanks to President Obama (an announcement made in both English and Mandarin, how often does that happen?), but things soon got under way with the first of multiple vignettes, “When Kings Followed the Creator to the Earth,” a dance involving fog machines and an animated screen, depicting everything from ancient Chinese buildings to an intergalactic ride past planetary bodies.
And the bilingual action continued throughout the spectacular proceedings—which included the stunning “Plum Blossom” and “Nymphs of the Sea” and the energetic “Drummers of the Tang Court” and “Chopstick Zest” dances—as the first-name-only suited Jared and Kelly acted as game show-esque emcees, doling out instructional tidbits in both English and Mandarin.
A Mongolian chopsticks piece from the summer of 2010
“Jared, what happened in the Tang dynasty?” queried Kelly (who like Vanna White or Anna Hathaway at the Oscars, changed her dress during intermission). She later chided him on his pronunciation after teaching the audience how to say “there” and “not there” in Mandarin.
“They say it better than you,” she mocked.
The select group of guests got an even closer experience with Shen Yun at a post-performance party on the theater’s Promenade, where a small bar doled out wine, while two tables offered a somewhat beguiling selection of mozzarella sticks, burgers, chicken tenders and a few sushi rolls accompanied by Asian desserts (not a chopstick in sight, by the way). A central table, from the midtown eatery Radiance, gave out tea samplings.
Michelle Guyun performing in 2010
Select company members, in Asian dress, mingled through the crowd, each accompanied by a translator. Peter Marino and Karan took a considerable interest in two of the male performers after having a bit of a lovefest in which the leather-clad Marino humped Karan from behind and she declared, “This hottie is ready to dance.”
Marino, ever the architect, seemed especially curious about the dancers’ take on the environment.
“How did they like the theater?” he asked. “There’s no aisles down the middle. Could they see the audience better?”
Karan asked them about—what else?—Tibet and the Dalai Lama (remember, this was an Urban Zen event).
They, in turn, asked her, through the translator what she liked best about the performance.
“I love when it gets into the soul,” she replied. “It’s in respect to a higher self.”
“Oh my god, you are a really special, spiritual person!” exclaimed the delighted translator who quickly relayed this information to her guards.
Umm. I mean, Om.
Photos: Karan: Patrick McMullan; others: Courtesy of Shen Yun