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Emirati Culture Sparkles at Opera Ball
by Anna Gawel
When you think of the United Arab Emirates, you might think of towering skyscrapers jutting out of man-islands, surrounded by glittering blue waters and abundant wealth. Or you may conjure more traditional images of an exotic desert land dotted with palm trees and Bedouin men smoking shisha. A bit clichéd? Yes. But the UAE Embassy brought the fantasy to glittering life for the 2012 Opera Ball on June 2.
Photo by Margot Schulman
From left, Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates Yousef Al Otaiba and his wife Abeer Al Otaiba greet Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser at the 2012 Opera Ball, held at the UAE Embassy, which marked the inaugural season of the Washington National Opera under its new affiliation with the Kennedy Center.
The embassy and grounds were decked out in Arab pergolas and gazebos, complete with henna artists that gave the women elaborate temporary tattoos (not often you see too many ambassadors' wives with ink on their arms).
The 500 guests, many of whom enjoyed intimate dinners at ambassador residences and embassies around town beforehand, arrived at the UAE Embassy at 9:30 p.m. for desserts and dancing. They entered a grand portico punctuated by a lavender-tinted, 20-foot water wall and an atrium filled with palm trees and hanging orchids.
They were also greeted by the evening's hosts: UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba and his wife Abeer Al Otaiba, as well as Adrienne Arsht, the ball chair and a well-known Washington philanthropist.
Photo by Margot Schulman
From left, philanthropist Adrienne Arsht, chair of the 2012 Opera Ball, welcomes Mrs. and Ambassador of Japan Ichiro Fujisaki to the dessert and dancing portion of the Opera Ball, which was preceded by intimate dinners hosted by ambassadors at their embassies and residences throughout the city.
"Abeer and I are honored to support the Washington National Opera and congratulate the entire company on a magnificent inaugural season under its new affiliation with the Kennedy Center. Together, these two great institutions are introducing new generations of Washingtonians to opera," said Ambassador Al Otaiba. "Opera is a truly global art form, and we are proud to continue our longstanding relationship with the Kennedy Center and be a part of this important cultural exchange."
David M. Rubeinstein, Kennedy Center chairman, welcomed guests to the embassy, joking that Washingtonians would love the UAE and its stunning buildings, warm hospitality, beautiful weather and -- best of all -- lack of potholes.
Photo by Anna Gawel
From left, Lady and Sir Peter Westmacott, the ambassador of Britain, join Ambassador of Singapore Chan Heng Chee and Theow H. Tow at the 2012 Opera Ball, a highlight of the city’s cultural, philanthropic, and social season.
This year's Opera Ball -- the biggest annual fundraiser for the Washington National Opera (WNO) -- marked WNO's first season as an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center.
In fact, Roxanne Roberts of the Washington Post's Reliable Source reported that, "When the financial struggling opera company merged with the Kennedy Center last year, there were fears that bean counters would chop the extravagant party. But it survived, at least for now, and raised $1.1 million for the WNO."
And party planners certainly didn't skimp on the extravagance (nor did guests, who plunked down a hefty $1,200 per ticket). As the first Arab embassy to host the Opera Ball, a highlight of the D.C. social season, the bar was set high for the UAE, especially because past balls have been hosted by diplomatic heavyweights such as China and Russia (also see "UAE Welcomes WNO" in the June 2011 issue of The Washington Diplomat.
Photo by Anna Gawel
Departing Ambassador of Egypt Sameh Shoukry and his wife Suzy stand by the entrance of the United Arab Emirates Embassy, which featured a 20-foot water wall and an atrium filled with palm trees and hanging orchids.
But the embassy delivered a dramatic yet sophisticated showcase of Emirati culture. Lanterns, including a 23-foot custom-built starburst lantern lit by candles, set the scene. In addition to traditional henna artists, the embassy and outdoor tents featured Emirati arts and crafts, as well as folk dance performances by the Abu Dhabi-based National Band for Folk Art. And a few lucky patrons who won the raffle for two trips to Dubai and Abu Dhabi will get to experience Emirati culture firsthand.
As always, the ball was a who's who of Washington VIPs. Among those in attendance were Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Susan Lehrman (previous Opera Ball chair), Catherine Reynolds, Protocol Chief Capricia Marshall, and more than a dozen ambassadors. In fact, 16 ambassadors hosted dinners prior to the ball, including envoys from Brazil, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, India, Japan, Mexico, Oman, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and Uzbekistan.
And everyone was sent off in style at the end of the festivities. An outdoor tent let guests sample traditional shisha, i.e. tobacco water pipes, while lounging on plush pillows as valets retrieved their cars. Guests were also treated to goodie bags with pearls from the UAE -- not a bad memento for a pretty unforgettable night.
About the Author
Anna Gawel is managing editor for The Washington Diplomat and a columnist for the Diplomatic Pouch.