The evening began with two new ballets created by Martins. In "Sophisticated Lady," to music by Duke Ellington, Maria Kowroski glided ballroom-style around the stage with a contingent of tuxedo-clad men, 17 to be exact, led by the suave (and recently retired) Charles Askegard. The dancing was pleasant but the focal point was clear: Kowroski's fabulous red, one-shoulder Valentino gown. (Hopefully, she recycled it later for the evening's gala dinner.)
Another new Martins work followed, "Not My Girl" to music by Fred Astaire and Van Phillips, notable for the tapping of Robert Fairchild and the bright, engaging dancing of Tiler Peck in a frothy pink-and-red Valentino tutu.
The best dancing by far, though, came in the lovely and heartbreaking new pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon, "This Bitter Earth," to music by Max Richter and Dina Washington. It was a preview of Wheeldon's new ballet, "Five Movements, Three Repeats," and though there are no immediate plans for City Ballet to perform it again, it was the highlight of the night for those who came for dance. Whelan remains a wonderful muse for the hugely gifted Wheeldon, her every move conveying meaning, purpose and feeling.
The evening would end with a sumptuous dinner on the promenade of the David H. Koch Theater, where tables were decked with pink tablecloths and bright red flowers, with red sashes crisscrossing the room overhead.
But first came the true fashion show of the night, Martins' "Bal de Couture," with those tulle-filled creations. (It was a pleasure to see the expressive Janie Taylor in a lead role, a hopeful sign for the season ahead.)
Afterward, the crowd stood — but only when Valentino came out for his bows.