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Aged Before Their Time

By Lois E. Beckett and Alexander B. Fabry, Crimson Staff Writerss

As Harvard’s social pupae gathered Thursday night at the Fogg’s farewell gala (theme: “Ooh La La!”), different social circles soon became apparent on the dance floor. The Advocate kids tended to undulate in delight to sublime saxophone jazz of Marcus G. Miller ’08 while the Final Club crowd and the budding socialites showed off their hard-earned dance school moves and spun each other across the floor of the faux-Venetian atrium.

If Harvard is the school of tomorrow’s leaders, then this gala was a peculiar subset of Harvard. Some were drawn by the art, perhaps, but most seemed drawn by visions of an Upper East Side future, a seat on a museum board, and the self-satisfaction—familiar to everyone who has attended one of the first Friday drink nights at the MFA—that comes with downing a glass of scotch next to a priceless masterpiece of Renaissance art.

Stephanie Kacoyanis crooned “La Vie en Rose” as women sporting black elbow-length gloves minced through the crowd. It was a chance to unwrap the dry-cleaning plastic from chic dresses. One fashionista wore a fine off-white, cotton-linen dress painted with abstract-expressionistic verve, in warm reds and yellows: the Gucci version of a stained burlap sack.

The Fogg’s atrium provided the perfect environment for this tragicomedy (for every bit of farce is mingled with the hardship of wearing last season’s heels). The second-story peristyle provided the backdrop for gowned and tuxedoed couples to make dramatic poses between the arches, to see and be seen. Upstairs, a senior in a tight scarlet dress balanced on one foot to adjust her shoe as she stared at Albert Bierstadt’s 1863 “Lander’s Peak.” It was American manifest destiny at its finest: a ray of sunlight bursting through the clouds above a towering range of imaginary mountains.

Her date slouched against a pillar nearby, his hands in his pockets. In front of him was a framed shipwreck chalked on brown paper.

Another couple lounged between the Ionic columns, their chitchat dramatized by theatrically yellowed lighting. They were framed against the white wall, and as the night progressed, the negative space between their profiles shrank and shrank again.

Beneath them, on the dance floor, the tipsy teetered on their high heels and clung to their partners’ shoulders.

Like so many Harvard encounters, the dancing was ever so slightly awkward and forced, as if these students who had just celebrated their 21st birthdays were play-acting themselves in 30 years, when they would be grinning at younger dancing partners, having again consumed (and spilled) one too many glasses of wine.

With her bleached hair and fearsome tan, one dancer looked more “Girls Gone Wild” than Givenchy. Her partner was shimmying in his shiny shoes, but she only stumbled in a circle as he twirled her around. When he dipped her, her mouth gaped open in a smile.

But slowly the jazz worked its magic. The couple fell into step, the fringe on her dress swishing to the tempo. Soon they were both spinning confidently, grinning as they raised their hands and wiggled their fingers. Jazz hands! Jazz hands! They were barely being ironic.

In the galleries, marble statues clutched each other and were quiet.

—Staff writer Lois E. Beckett can be reached at beckett@fas.harvard.edu. Staff writer Alexander B. Fabry can be reached at fabry@fas.harvard.edu.

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