White tents filled the courtyard at the Lorton Arts Foundation's Workhouse Theater site on Friday, Sept. 29. Valets waited in white tuxedos to park cars. Smiling catering staff passed around glasses filled with wine and champagne. A three-piece ensemble played softly in the background as politicians, philanthropists and art lovers chatted about the weather, the renovations, and the performance they were about to see. Candles flickered in giant glass holders on sparkling white, purple and gold tables for the dinner that would follow.
After all, when Mikhail Baryshnikov comes to town, the red carpet comes out and stays out until he says it's time to go.
To formally kick off the partnership between the Lorton Arts Foundation and the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation, more than 500 people attended the two-night fund-raiser and celebration in the Workhouse, a former gym for the prisoners at the Occoquan Workhouse when it was part of the prison. Less than a year after receiving keys to the property from Fairfax County, the Arts Foundation welcomed Baryshnikov as the inaugural performer on its stage.
"I certainly didn't think they'd come this far this quickly," said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) of the Arts Foundation, one of the groups he credits with the ongoing transformation of Lorton into a place where people want to be.
"This event is one of those excellent experiences that show people who really want to make a difference, when they get together and urge the government to work with them, they can make incredible things happen," Hyland said. "I'm so proud of the people who make this possible."
Having Baryshnikov as the first performer, he said, was "icing on the cake."
HYLAND WAS joined by fellow supervisors Linda Smyth (D-Providence) and Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), all of whom agreed this was what the Board had hoped for when first approached by the Arts Foundation with their dreams for the Workhouse site.
"This is a very good deal for the county," Smyth said. "Things have changed remarkably. The first time I was here, everyone was tripping over gopher holes. This is such an innovative way to do something."
Bulova said she was proud of the Foundation for its early successes.
"To think of what used to be here and now see this," she said. "It's so exciting for all of us."
Former governor Mark Warner and his wife, Lisa Collis, served as honorary hosts for the weekend, coming over from their Alexandria home.
"This is how we can preserve the arts in Northern Virginia," Warner said, adding that Washington will no longer be the cultural center of the area once the Workhouse is fully functional in early 2008.
"When I was governor, one of the issues we had was deciding what to do with Lorton" as a prison, Warner said. "They've found a great way to use the buildings for a better purpose. This will be one of the most eclectic areas of Northern Virginia."
THE MAIN EVENT of the evening, of course, was Baryshnikov's performance.
Entitled "Years Later" and choreographed by Benjamin Millepied, the piece consisted of three movements, two of which featured Baryshnikov shadow-dancing with film of himself at younger ages to a lone saxophone. The 59-year-old Latvian is still every bit the show-stopper now that he was as a young man, moving across the stage with the same grace and seemingly effortless leaps of someone much younger.
Perhaps to address those comparisons, he ended the piece facing the audience and, with a wink, gesturing his hands to show that it was all still so easy, so natural.
Baryshnikov received an honorary doctorate from Shenandoah University during the dinner. Members of the school's Performing Arts conservatory thanked him for his contributions to the arts and congratulated the Lorton Arts Foundation for its tremendous start.
Shenandoah University board member Jim Vickers flew his daughter Katie in from Ohio, where she attends college, for the performance.
"I've been dancing since I was 3 and I missed two classes to be here," Katie Vickers said, eagerly awaiting the performance. "Once I told my professors why I had to come back, it was no problem."
Seeing Baryshnikov perform was a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for Katie Vickers, who had previously seen performance films of the dancer.
"Of course I know his work from the videos, but to personally see him is just such an honor," she said.
Nicole Talor and her parents, Eyal and Monica Talor, came down from Baltimore for the performance.
Another dancer, Nicole Talor said Baryshnikov is "a dance idol" for students, regardless of their particular school of study.
"This is a dream to see him and maybe meet him," she said.
With ticket sales and pledges, the gala events brought in just over $1 million, said Tina Leone, executive director of the Lorton Arts Foundation. She expects the Foundation will be able to donate $250,000 to the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation in New York.
"I really hope they're as pleased with this outcome as we are," she said.
More than 550 people attended the event, but Leone wants Lorton residents to know that future performances won't face such strict attendance limitations.
Fairfax County Fire Marshals were on hand at both performances because, technically, the Workhouse theater isn't finished or fully up to county safety code, Leone said, with restricted the number tickets that could be sold.
"I don't want to give anyone the impression that this will be an exclusive place," she said. "In the future, we're going to want to open it up to as many people as possible."