The evening of Friday April 17 will welcome about 800 guests which will include some of Chicago moneyed set, corporate leaders, next generation philanthropists and dancers, to take in a highly anticipated performance and then a special evening that gala co-chairs have been planning for months. The Joffrey Ballet Spring Gala is one of the make the scene events on Chicago’s social calendar, with tickets starting at $750 and sponsorships going as high as $50,000 you bet there’s going to be a lot of who’s who in attendance. Before we get to Friday, we wanted to get a little sneak peek at what’s in store, so I sat down with Noren Ungaretti and Elizabeth Yntema co-chairs of the gala.
I will say, going into the interview I didn’t expect to leave with as many gems and knowledge of the organization but the two ladies were charming and engaging and I can see why they have almost made their over $1million fundraising goal, even before the event. We talked about everything from fundraising tips, their views of the next generation as it pertains to philanthropy, what’s in store for the gala and how the Joffrey is engaged in the community.
SociaLifeChicago: The spring gala is one of the highly anticipated event of the social season, can you give us a sneak into what’s to be expected that night?
Noren: We are planning on raising a ton of money and having a fun party. We are at about 97% of reaching our goal at this point, which is $1.4 million; We are rocking way ahead. With an event like this, we have tapped our network and we are also bringing in guests. For that night, we are going to tell the story of the Joffrey, to let people understand what the Joffrey is all about not just the 40 members of the company but also our community engagement program and the Joffrey academy whose dancers will also be performing that night.
We want to have an engaging evening, raise money to meet our goal and make sure it’s a fun party so people come back next year and next year’s co-chairs can build upon that platform. We have a special champagne partner, Moët, and we’re going to have a champagne toast in the theater. Chef Mario Garcia at the Hilton is pulling all the stops for us; for example they’ve grown micro greens especially for our dinner and there will be lots of food, the menu for “Be Moved” gala is incredible. We wanted to do coffee and cookies on the way home after the gala, and chef is giving us a private chef for the coffee and cookies so guests will leave with warm cookies, talk about attention to detail!
Liza: The night will start with the performance including a piece by Justin Peck, In Creases, who is just hot hot hot right now in the world of dance! He’s very popular and incredibly talented. He is one of the “it” choreographers right now following Christopher Wheldon and the evenings performance is going to include the Chicago premiere of one of his new works. We are also getting a Christopher Wheldon piece, Liturgy. It’s almost like a tapas, of performances that night, there’s an original Gerald Arpino piece, who was the Joffrey Ballet founder, and then a very modern piece that gives you a good flavor of where dance is going. Ashley (Wheater) has designed the program really well and It’s not just straight up ballet but the performance will be really fun. It’s a big deal that the Joffrey has a Peck work right now. Our music is by Rich Daniels and the City Lights Orchestra and fun fact, Rich is the local music director for the hit Fox TV show “Empire.” One of my guests for the gala is Orbert Davis of the Chicago Jazz Philarmonic who will be attending with his wife Lisa, and at some point in the night he will go up on stage and play with Rich for a few numbers and jam out.
SociaLifeChicago: Ballet as an art form, in a sense, is for a niche audience but it has seen a resurgence as of late especially with minorityrole models such as Misty Copeland, as women’s board members how does the Joffrey stand out in the charge to feature diverse faces in the ballet company?
Liza: One of the things Artistic Director Ashley Wheater, Executive Director Greg Cameron and the board members are always interested in is getting more involved in the community. Ballet may seem pretty esoteric but when you see the dancers, it’s not just straight up ballet. It’s athletic, it’s fun and it’s training for the mind of these kids. Although a lot of the kids in the community and training programs don’t go on to become professional dancers but the record of success academically really shows that the training carries over. The discipline and willingness to put up with a lot of pain, show up and dance stays with you. Its not just about the ballet, it’s to help the community.
Noren: Ballet is all the art forms, not just a niche art form. It’s movement, its music, there’s the backdrop and scenery, costumes, its drama, you’re feeling it. Ashley is trying to create a world class ballet company but staying true to the Joffrey’s alternative, much more visceral, modern roots.
We have a variety of dancers with real range of bodies and in age.
The misconception is that ballet is tutu and tights and stiff and if you look at the invitation to the gala, it’s very modern and a nod to the begins of the Joffrey which was a reaction to what ballet was like back then.
Dance is fun, and healthy. I’m fundraising for this because I want as many kids as possible to have the opportunity to have this much fun! -Liza Yntema
SociaLifeChicago: Ballet is seen more as an affluent, cultured art form how is it engaged in the underserved community?
Noren: The history of ballet is very western European and that’s what dominates the image over time but eventually ballet becomes it’s own thing, the Joffrey is very much an American version of ballet and that’s why its been successful in diversifying. We have dancers from 13 different countries. The Chicago Park District will be getting the Joffrey dancers in new and different neighborhoods to get these kids a chance to perform. Former Joffrey dancer Erica Lynette Edwards, is our director of community engagement
The Joffrey is now in 23 different Chicago Public Schools and we have over 700 CPS students coming to our program to learn about ballet specifically and that helps to diversify our future audience and the funds raised from the gala pays for these initiatives, a lot of our work in the community.Dance teaches children focus and understanding of discipline. When you see these kids on stage, they are so proud of themselves.
SociaLifeChicago: How did you ladies get involved with the organization?
Noren: Though I was a dance student when I was very very young it wasn’t until a very dear friend (Anne Waters and husband Ronald Water) who was involved invited me to the gala and slowly but surely I began to get engaged. It’s irresistible!
The truth is everything fun and good that’s happened in my life has been through volunteer work. I met my husband through a friend I met while working on a volunteer project. I have met numerous interesting people and it was all because I said I would help and my world is so much bigger and better because of it. Its been a benefit and a joy for me.
Liza: The great thing about Noren, including the fact that she is one of the best dressed women in the city, she knows so many people and worked on so many causes. I have a background in dance as well but as to why I got involved, in a global sense there are people who volunteer and people who don’t.
I am really finding there are people who have a passion for involvement. I cannot believe how many people who don’t volunteer. Both of us feel an obligation to make Chicago better and the Joffrey is one way to do that.
SociaLifeChicago: What are you wearing to the gala?
Liza: J Mendel Dress. I shopped at Neapolitan because they donate 20% to the charity.
Noren: black dress with a Giambattista Valli jacket
SociaLifeChicago: Let’s talk about the next generation who will one day support these organizations. An organization like the Joffrey is vital to our city’s cultural landscape, what advice can you give to the next generation such as JAB members to help continue to carry its legacy and support its fundraising efforts.
Noren: Based on my experience with auxiliary boards, when they are young they don’t just participate in one board and stay for the rest of their lives. They try to figure out where they have friends, their interests and their lives change and a lot of them have school loans to pay off, they are establishing their careers and starting families.
Liza: Get them involved in charities early on; I brought my kids when they were 10/11,12 years old. Trust your kids to come into their own as they get more in an adult situation. I think what needs to happen for things to go to the next generation is people our age need to encourage our kids to come along. The more we can encourage them to see what’s happening, the better. We have to be smart and competitive in how we attract the next generation. The fact that the Joffrey ballet itself is a young organization and our dancers are young, helps us a good deal. It has to start with coming to the performances to see for yourself.
SociaLifeChicago: Fundraising for a non profit is not something they necessarily teach you and some people don’t have the King Harris name or cache, are there some fundraising tips/advice you can dispense?
Noren: First thing you have to have is a reason why you believe in this organization. It has to be short, your elevator speech of sorts. Why are they good, what are they doing for the community and how does it help other people and be able to tell your story to everyone you know. In a practical sense, King is working on a different level. As a young professional the most important thing is to be able to understand what the other person is going to be motivated by and you’re giving them that reason that you think will engage them towards your organization. It’s really not that hard. Remember to make it fun. When you’re talking about any kind of purpose or charitable endeavor you should always remember why should anyone care? Why should I give you my hard earned money and not there?
Liza: Find somebody thats really good to learn from. I am not as experienced in philanthropy as Noren is and I told her I want to learn from her. Find somebody who knows what they are doing and be willing to learn and listen. A lot of people want to be leaders right away, but my tip is to find somebody you can really learn from about philanthropy. The other tip is, I am all about preparation and research. A lot of good ideas have come along because I was willing to learn from smart people. Know about the organization, down to the facts and figure.
This is certainly going to be a party not to be missed.-Noren Ungaretti
Photo credit: Holly Max Myrick