Dance of the Socialites

Spoiler alert: If you don’t want to know about the “surprise guest stars” at the Martha Graham Dance Company’s gala next month, stop now. Don’t read another word of this post.

And don’t hang around a certain dance studio on West 38th Street, either. You might see the stars stepping out of their Lincoln Town Cars on the way to a rehearsal — five socialites who will dance with the Graham troupe. Or try to.

This is sort of like being a walk-on at the opera, except that it involves a lot more than walking. One of the five, Muffie Aston Potter, is all set to do a cartwheel.

Judging by the way things went one afternoon last week, when two of the five went to their first full-fledged rehearsal with the Graham company, they will be ready for their moment on the other side of the footlights. “They were amazing,” Blakeley White-McGuire, a principal of the Graham company, said after the rehearsal. “It takes so much courage. We’re trained to do this.”

The idea is that putting the five women onstage at a gala is an inside joke that the audience at the $600-per-person-and-up event will understand. Having the five — Somers Farkas, Cornelia Guest, Grace Hightower, Karen Lefrak and Ms. Potter — dance with the Graham company is something of a challenge. For one thing, they are not as young as they once were — who is? Without naming names here, the youngest of the five is in her early 40s, the oldest in her early 60s.

And they do not have a lot of experience as ballet dancers.

Ms. Lefrak has written two scores for dancers to dance to, but that is different than doing the dancing oneself. Ms. Farkas, who said she took ballet lessons when she was young, modeled professionally. Ms. Potter has been a trustee of the American Ballet Theater. She was also a gymnast and, she said, “took ballet in the context of my gym career, for moves that would help my routines.”

That preparation is about to pay off. “When I found out she could do a cartwheel,” recalled Janet Eilber, the company’s artistic director, “I said, ‘You will.’”

The piece Ms. Eilber chose is “Maple Leaf Rag,” the last complete ballet that Graham choreographed before her death in 1991. It uses melodies by the ragtime genius Scott Joplin. It begins with audio of Graham saying to her longtime pianist and sometime lover Louis Horst, “Oh, Louis, play me the ‘Maple Leaf Rag.’”

Ms. Farkas said that she and her husband, Jonathan, had been invited to the official opening of “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark” the same night. They told James L. Nederlander, one of the producers of “Spider-Man” and the president of the Nederlander Organization, that they would attend another night.

“I think Jonathan’s looking forward to seeing Muffie do her cartwheel,” Ms. Farkas said.

Ms. Aston said she was not nervous. “I used to do it one-handed on a balance beam,” she said. “I figured I could still do it on the floor.”

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