Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys.

Photographer: Sherly Rabbani

Over the past few years, the New York City Ballet’s biannual galas have become something of a celebrity hub, due in no small part to the presence of Sarah Jessica Parker on the company’s board. Red carpets have stretched the length of the Lincoln Center plaza, with press lines more common for movie premieres and even awards shows. It’s not a bad thing: celebrities bring exposure—particularly to the younger generation the institution needs to court to maintain its artistic preeminence.

Given this, you would have expected the NYCB’s spring gala celebrating its 50-year anniversary in its current Philip Johnson-designed building and sponsored by Vacheron Constantin to pull out all the Hollywood stops. But while the carpet was long, its populace was less star-studded. The biggest names were Alicia Keys, Kristen Bell (who performed a rendition of “If I Loved You” from “Carousel”) and a lonely-looking Sean Avery. This was also not a bad thing.

It meant that Thursday evening’s focus was on celebrating ballet. (Ruinart helped pave the way with a champagne bar, as part of its new beverage partnership with the company.) When Peter Martins brought out former dancers who had graced the former New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater) in 1964, among them Jacques d’Amboise and Allegra Kent, and asked the audience to toast them with shots from mini bottles of Georgi vodka, many guests cheered. And instead of presenting a packed program of crowd-pleasers, the NYCB stuck with just two ballets (preceded by a trumpet performance of “Fanfare for a New Theater” and the orchestra’s playing of the national anthem): George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante” and the world premiere of Justin Peck’s “Everywhere We Go.”

“There are so many other companies now and I go see them,” said Alessandro Fendi, who has been a staunch supporter of NYCB for years. “But every time I come here, it’s like a homecoming.”

After dinner on the Promenade, strewn with bouquets of white flowers, people hit the dance floor with abandon, led by off-duty ballerinas choreographing their own version of “Blurred Lines.”

“Dance circles are so much better when they’re led by actual dancers,” remarked one guest. Yes, they are.