Midlerâ€™s name, and brief appearance, a boon to Nevada Ballet Theatre
By John Katsilometes
Bette Midler, shown with her Nevada Ballet Theatre Woman of the Year award on Jan. 17.
Photo: Audrey Dempsey
Photo: Audrey Dempsey )
Metaphorically, it is the mantra of the recession: There is no dancing if there is no money.
That is literally true at Nevada Ballet Theatre. All that staging, all those sequined-splashed dancing tights and the dancers wearing those costumes, do not pay for themselves. Not surprisingly, NBT has been pinched financially for at least a year leading up to last nightâ€™s Black & White Ball at Caesars Palace, celebrating the companyâ€™s silver anniversary and drawing on the super-famous name of Bette Midler as this yearâ€™s Woman of the Year.
â€œWe almost always live in a recession. The arts are always going uphill. We started feeling it early in 2008, with our donations going down. Ticket sales have been off, and at the end of 2008, we felt it. Even Nutcracker, our meat and potatoes, was down,â€ NBT co-fonder and 1986 Woman of the Year Nancy Houssels said during a pre-dinner reception at the Cartier boutique at Caesars. â€œSo we are definitely feeling it and we need to be resourceful and creative.â€
That means, adhering to a strategy that has been in place over the past several years, NBT has invited celebrities â€“ big names recognizable across the country â€“ to join the list of Women of the Year. In 2001 Larry Ruvo of Southern Wine & Spirits convinced Houssels to take that route, pointing to his own wildly successful Keep Memory Alive galas for the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute. Sometimes the NBT choices make perfect sense. Ann-Margret, who famously shimmied with Elvis in Viva Las Vegas and has for decades performed in Las Vegas showrooms, was the 2005 honoree. Rita Rudner, for years a Strip headliner with a background in ballet, was the Woman of the Year in 2006. But sometimes the results are laughable; Paula Abdulâ€™s loopy promenade through the 2007 gala at Wynn Las Vegas has become part of NBT lore. Houssels, who was something less than thrilled at having to deal with Cirque du Abdul that night, explained that the resulting exposure (clips on such syndicated celeb news shows as Entertainment Tonight, and footage on Abdulâ€™s reality show, Hey, Paula!) long outlasted the headaches. Today, sheâ€™s even willing to forgive the â€œcrabbyâ€ Simon Cowell for showing up in a gray T-shirt at the black-tie gala honoring Abdul.
Leach Blog Photo
Photo: Erik Kabik/Retna/www.erikkabikphoto.com
Bette Midler, shown during an October fundraiser for Barack Obama at Krave nightclub at the Harmon Theater.
So it hardly mattered to NBT officials that Midler couldnâ€™t show up to last nightâ€™s program until about 10:30 p.m. because she was tied up performing for 4,000 fans at The Colosseum; declined interview requests to talk about the honor before, during or after the event; and, aside from a few shots by a house photographer, refused any photos to be taken of her during her brief appearance onstage. Though there was a palpable absence of the nightâ€™s honoree for almost the entire program, it was worth it for NBT to have Midlerâ€™s well-known name and visage attached to the companyâ€™s 25th anniversary.
â€œMy God, who wouldnâ€™t like to have her as an honoree?â€ Houssels said when I asked her about Midlerâ€™s limited role in last nightâ€™s event. â€œâ€¦ if youâ€™ve seen her show, and Iâ€™m going again tomorrow, let me tell you, when youâ€™re 62 years old and dancing across the stage the size of a football field several times a night, it has to be exhausting. She has to save herself, and thatâ€™s why sheâ€™s lasted as long as she has. So, even if we can get her for only a few minutes to make an appearance, itâ€™s worth a whole evening for us. The people here tonight most certainly understand that.â€
Midler spoke to the audience in a recorded clip early in the show, thanking the NBT, reminding the audience that she was just downstairs at The Colosseum and would be joining the crowd soon enough. When she finally took the stage, she thanked the NBT board for the award and also for its mailing list of donors. Thatâ€™s something Midler will put to good use as founder of the New York Restoration Project, whose simple charge is to merely clean up New York City. She was also ready with a sharply delivered quip, saying she understood that this yearâ€™s Woman of the Year vote was quite close.
â€œIt came down to me, and Sarah Palin,â€ she told the audience.
It was a line worth waiting for.