The Viennese Winter Ball is not just music to the ears; it appeals to all of the senses by giving black-tie gala-goers an evening of fine dining with live music and dancing in an opulent setting fit for a Habsburg emperor.
Now in its 23rd year, the popular social event returned to the Trillium Ballroom of the Shaw Centre on Saturday to raise funds for three local arts groups that are helping children and youth connect to music: Music and Beyond, OrKidstra and Junior Thirteen Strings.
In keeping with Austria's centuries-old tradition, 12 debutantes and their male counterparts, called cavaliers, performed a popular polonaise processional and a waltz, to music played by the Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra under the baton of its artistic director, Kevin Mallon. Parents watched with pride as their teenaged sons and daughters, dressed in formal wear, moved with elegance and ease on the dance floor.
Micheline Saikaley, vice president of operations at her family's Avenue Lock & Security business, co-chaired this year's charity event with Chris Spiteri, board president for Music and Beyond and a partner at law firm Spiteri & Ursulak LLP, which was also a corporate sponsor. The pair was assisted by a 17-member, all-female committee.
The Viennese Winter Ball has evolved in recent years to become more inclusive and accessible. It also places greater focus on youth.
Organizers have created the roles of debutantes- and cavaliers-in-waiting to encourage younger teens to volunteer at the ball while also getting a glimpse of what it might be like to participate in the choreographed and rehearsed dances, once they're old enough. Present for his first time was 12-year-old Francis Armour, eldest of the four sons of Julian Armour, artistic and executive director of the Music and Beyond arts organization, which now manages the ball.
Saikaley told the room what a joy it's been to work with the youth, all of whom have been learning and rehearsing their dances for weeks, at Arthur Murray Dance Studio. She remarked on how the process has helped the teens to become more confident in themselves, and to shed some of their shyness. As well, the youth, who were between the ages of 16 and 18, have fostered new friendships from the experience.
“It really is a magical evening, a memory that they will hold for the rest of their lives,” said Saikaley, whose daughter Alexa Nasrallah, a 16-year-old student at Ashbury College, danced as a debutante that night, after previously volunteering as a debutante-in-waiting.
Spiteri’s 18-year-old son, Nicholas Spiteri, who is a student at Canterbury High School, also took part. His participation marks the end of an era for Spiteri and his wife, Jane Spiteri. All four of their children have now done the debutante and cavalier thing.
Spotted from some of the corporate sponsors were Franklin Holtforster, president and CEO of Colliers Project Leaders, Minto Group CEO Michael Waters, and Terry McLaughlin, owner of Terlin Construction. He got to dance later with his debutante daughter, Charlotte McLaughlin, 16, a student of Elmwood School.
Also there, both as a corporate sponsor and as a dad of a debutante, was Andy Shelp. He’s a partner at land surveying firm Annis O'Sullivan Vollebekk while his wife, young adult fiction writer Tanis Browning-Shelp, is on the board of directors at Music and Beyond. Their daughter, Sydney, 17, goes to Canterbury High School.
Travis Hartwick, who was seated at their table, was the highest bidder, at $6,500, on an embassy dinner for 12 to be hosted by Austrian Ambassador Stefan Pehringer and his wife, Debra Jean Pehringer.
Last year, Shelp and his wife bought a similar embassy dinner held with Spanish Ambassador Enrique Ruiz Molero. The diplomat and his wife donated it again this year, helping to bring in $5,000 for the cause.
Juno Award-winning singer Kellylee Evans was back as the event’s special musical guest, wowing the crowd with her superb voice and charming personality.
Young performing artists got to share the spotlight with Evans when she sang Randy Newman’s popular ditty, You’ve Got A Friend in Me. Talented young vocalist Lillian Ayoubzadeh, an arts program student at Canterbury High School, sang along with her while the duo was accompanied by the school's jazz ensemble. The Canterbury Choir also participated in the evening.
Retirement seems to suit Michael O'Byrne just fine. He recently stepped away from his 38-year broadcasting career with CTV Ottawa. He flew back from Florida to emcee the ball for his second time.
O’Byrne whipped up some fundraising dollars by putting out a request for the audience to help cover partial costs for Music and Beyond to hand out free youth passes for its annual classical music summer festival in Ottawa. An overwhelming number of hands shot up in the air, and O’Byrne got exactly the response he’d been hoping for. The organization will be able to give out about 120 passes to young people as a result of the donations made that evening.
O’Byrne also led the live auction, selling off such items as artwork donated by Alpha Art Gallery and Terry Koyman; a private cocktail party and fashion show, with a $1,000 gift certificate, at Sukhoo Sukhoo Couture, and a suite for this year’s Justin Bieber concert at the Canadian Tire Centre, courtesy of Terlin Construction. It sold for $3,000.
There was also a chance to be among the first to try the new zipline that's to span across the Ottawa River. The item was bought for $1,700 by Spiteri, who can bring along nine of his bravest friends. Donated by Rogers, the experience comes with wine (probably to take the nervous edge off), and also includes a post-ride reception.
The evening is believed to have raised roughly $50,000 from the live and silent auctions, alone.
Guests were served Austrian-influenced hors d’oeuvres during the cocktail reception. For dinner, the three-course meal featured soy maple glazed ahi tuna with watermelon, followed by slow-cooked beef short rib (there were also chicken and vegetarian options), and a layered chestnut and caramel chocolate Gugelhupf-style cake.
Nobody needed to worry if waltzing just wasn't their thing; the Ottawa-based soul band The Hornettes played later in the night.