Saturday, February 21, 2009

Viennese Ball 2009 ~ Memories of a Lovely Evening

Viennese Ball last night was absolutely wonderful. I finally decided on a dress to wear (more on that below) and we finished getting ready almost on time. We hopped into Woodley's car and headed north. On the way we listened to "Anne of Green Gables" on CD that we had borrowed from the library. It was one of my favorite childhood books and it is so nice to be hearing it again.

Woodley had made dinner reservations but had kept the location a secret. As we pulled off of the freeway I was thrilled to see that we were heading to Left Bank, the very spot we had dined on our first date! We have stopped there for dinner several times on our way to various balls and it is always lots of fun because everyone wonders why we are so dressed up. Woodley was in his tails and I had on a fancy gown with petticoats and everything. Our dinner was marvelous - I should have taken photos of each dish because they were lovely. Maybe I'll think of that next time.
We started out with a pizza-like flat dish of duck confit, caramelized onions, and tiny mushrooms. The crust just flaked away in our mouths and the duck tasted divine. Along with that we had Left Bank's fabulous cheese fondue appetizer. They use a combination of goat cheese, brie, and blue cheese which makes for an amazing taste that is quite different from a traditional fondue. Personally, I like it much better. I wonder if they would be willing to share the recipe; it would be so much fun to make it at home sometimes. Next came the main course. Woodley had ordered butternut squash gnocchi which was decent but not too exciting. I felt like it needed a little more seasoning and I would have preferred it if the gnocchi had been cut into smaller pieces. I think it is due to the consistency, but I really prefer small gnocchi. I ordered a braised lamb shank that came with mashed potatoes and swiss chard. Normally I would never order such a big piece of meat - usually I go for lighter vegetarian entrees, fish, or chicken - but somehow it appealed to me. I was not disappointed with it. The meat fell off the bone and had a delicious flavor that married perfectly with the potatoes and swiss chard.

Growing up, my mother was a big fan of greens such as swiss chard and kale and we ate them regularly. They don't appear too often on menus so I am thrilled whenever I get the chance to order something with them. I try to cook with them myself but I don't do it nearly as often as I would like to.

For dessert I had crème brûlée which was delightful and Woodley had a molten chocolate cake which was also wonderful. As we finished with our desserts, we noticed it was getting late so we quickly finished up and headed to the ball.

The Stanford Viennese Ball is held each year at The Hyatt Regency in Burlingame. It is a big fancy hotel shaped like a big hollow square with the rooms around the outside of the square. The center holds an elegant atrium with fountains and full grown trees. On the level below the main part of the atrium is the lobby and the two ball rooms where Viennese Ball is held. One of the best features of the ball is the fact that they always have two different ballrooms - The Waltz Room and The Swing Room. While it is not immediately apparent that the two styles of dancing require completely different types of bands/orchestras but it is very true. That was something Woodley and I discovered when we were trying to decide on a band for our Wedding Celebration Ball. At Viennese Ball they simply solved the problem by having two rooms with the two different styles of performers.

Woodley and I spent most of our time in the Waltz Room where we danced to many waltzes and polkas performed by the Stanford Waltzerorchester. We were impressed with their playing which seemed to have improved a lot since the year before. My absolute favorite part of the whole night was when they performed "The Stanford Waltzes" which had been arranged by the group's conductor (whose name I sadly cannot remember). He introduced the waltz by announcing that we may recognize some of the pieces in it because they were songs that could often be heard around the Stanford campus. I wondered what exactly he could mean by that. The Stanford Band (the LSJUMB) which I had participated in played most of the "Stanford Music" around campus so I thought, "Could he mean 'Hail Stanford Hail,' or 'All Right Now'? Or do we have some other theme music that I was completely unaware of?" As the waltz started, Woodley and I were sitting on the sidelines listening and watching. The music was slow and sounded just like a normal waltz. All of a sudden it hit me. They were playing "All Right Now!" It was amazing! I think I wouldn't have noticed it if it wasn't for all of those hours playing it in the band on the Tuba. As soon as I realized what it was, I pulled Woodley onto the dance floor. I just couldn't let the chance to waltz to "All Right Now" pass me by. After a few blissful minutes of circling the floor the music changed a bit and I wondered what they were playing now. It sounded so waltz-like that it was hard at first to make out what the underlying theme was. I was amazed when I finally picked it out, they were playing "Come on Eileen," one of my other all time favorite songs that the LSJUMB plays. It was so fantastic!!! What an amazing thing to hear an orchestra play a waltz version cover of the LSJUMB's cover of "Come on Eileen" and "All Right Now?" I was truly very impressed and that was most definitely my favorite moment of the entire night. Only at Stanford! Another favorite moment was watching Danse Libre perform. They are so delightful to watch and they performed their pieces fabulously!

My least favorite part of the whole evening was watching the performance of the ballroom dance team. It wasn't that they were bad performers overall. They danced their piece fairly well. However, the ladies costumes were absolutely indecent. Apparently they decided to wear white ballet-style leotards with skirts that were created by pinning on a piece of red fabric. I think the overall effect could have been very nice if they had actually covered up a bit and made sure their skirts were firmly attached. The first thing that made me uncomfortable was during a Latin duet. The female performer had tied a rather large piece of red fabric over her white leotard but had failed to pull it down to a decent level. It was so short in the thigh area that as she danced the audience could repeatedly glimpse her white leotard underneath. It was made all the more noticeable by the fact that the dancing was very very suggestive - enough to make me feel a bit squeamish to begin with. Of course I know that type of dancing (and dress perhaps) has its place and is a respected art form. It just didn't seem to me that it fit in at all in the elegant ballroom of the Hyatt at the Viennese Ball. Shortly after that couple finished a group of ladies wearing smaller pieces of the red fabric as skirts started dancing another Latin piece. It was going fairly well and was interesting to watch when all of a sudden the audience made a huge gasp. I scanned the room and quickly saw that one of the dancers had lost her skirt entirely! There she was in a fairly revealing skimpy white leotard and tights in front of several hundred onlookers. To make matters worse, the lost piece of fabric lying on the floor nearly caused her and her partner to fall over. Once they realized it was really going to be a problem, she picked it up and tossed it into the audience.

I suppose when you are in the middle of a performance you must simply keep going on but I would have preferred if she had stopped for a moment and at least tried to pin it on again. After that at least one more lady lost her skirt later in the dance but at that point the crowd was fairly used to it. Overall the effect was not a good one and I spent most of the piece cringing and thinking to myself that I didn't really want or expect to see so much leg at the ball. In my opinion, leotards are perfectly acceptable in the ballet rehearsal space but not at the ball! I hope they invest in proper outfits next year so as to spare the audience from more wardrobe malfunctions.
Shortly before we started watching the performances I had started to feel that my petticoats weren't quite staying with me. During each dance I could feel them slipping down more and more. After watching all those other ladies loose their skirts I decided it was time to go up to our room and remove the potentially dangerous loose petticoats before I became a victim of my own wardrobe malfunction. When I got up to the room I was glad I took action before it was too late. The petticoat was fairly loose around my waist and really was in danger of falling off at any time. I was wearing two petticoat layers so I removed the loosest one and left on the other one (after pinning it to my dress to make sure it wouldn't fall down. I just love wearing petticoats though. Below is a picture of the one I wore throughout the ball. It is such a fun pink!

Other than that the ball was fairly uneventful and we danced until our feet were sore and our legs exhausted before heading up to our hotel room.

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