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October 01, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, October 01, 2004

Welcome to Paradiso Welcome to Paradiso (October 01, 2004)

Palo Alto Black & White Ball to boast a movie theme

by Terry Tang

Guests strutting in their best dancing shoes at Saturday's Black and White Ball may feel like Hollywood extras in a romantic party scene.

The 1,200 revelers expected at the Lucie Stern Community Center will discover an escapist's dream where classic cinema comes to life. In keeping with the theme of the evening, "Moonlit Cinema Paradiso," a special amphitheatre will showcase 10 vintage features, including such classics as "Gone With the Wind" and "Rear Window."

The ball's organizers are counting on movie magic to kick up the event's glam factor. The enviable task of picking which cinematic goodies to unspool went to ball chairwoman and self-professed movie buff Sunny Dykwel.

"People remember movies like 'Vertigo and 'Casablanca,'" said Dykwel, who recruited husband and fellow movie-lover, Dan. "It makes people nostalgic. We want everyone to come to the party. It's not just a dancing event."

The ball's atmosphere will also take cues from classical Italian art. While Romanesque statues flank the main entrance, the courtyard, which already hosts lush olive trees, will glitter with a fountain of lights. And in a tribute to "Nuovo cinema Paradiso," the 1989 Italian drama that inspired the festivity's motif, a statue of a little boy and elderly man will stand in the theater balcony (the film chronicles a filmmaker who reflects on his childhood bond with a local theater projectionist).

A smorgasbord of musical acts will also lead the revelry. Partygoers can get their groove on in the main ballroom to the sounds of rock, hip-hop and R&B musicians. They can also get footloose in the theater patio, which will be transformed into a jazz club showcasing pop artist Bray and Latin jazz musician Poncho Sanchez. The Boy Scouts' room will also temporarily metamorphose into a disco pumped by DJ Clyde L.

Anyone looking for something more subdued can stop at the Magic Castle Theater Stage for a performance from West Bay Opera or take in the strolling violinist in the main courtyard. For a crowning local touch, Stanford's Swingtime Dance Troupe will be hopping.

In terms of food, the party promises to serve up a delectable gastronomical production. From sushi to Wolf Ranch quail salad, Peninsula-area restaurants, including Evvia and the Bluewater Grill, will contribute an array of entree samplings. Meanwhile, guests' wine glasses will be amply filled. Besides beer from Gordon Biersch, Nola's will be mixing up mojitos and hurricanes and the Blue Chalk Cafe will set up a martini bar.

"Thirty-two restaurants will be represented," said Jim Maliksi, the ball's production chair. "As soon as you walk through that door, be prepared to eat -- and drink. That's the best part."

This year marks a homecoming for the Black & White Ball, which was cancelled for two years during the economic downturn. A highly anticipated affair on Palo Alto's social calendar since 1987, the fundraising extravaganza was first held in the Lucie Stern Community Center. The 27-member volunteer committee wanted the formal fest to feel more anchored within the community.

"We just wanted to go back to the roots and make it be a Palo Alto event," Dykwel said. "What better place to do it than where it was initially done. It's a place that people recognize and place that they like."

The ball first began as a fundraiser for the city's May-Fete parade, which was in danger of being eliminated. As a result, the Palo Alto Recreation Foundation (PARF) was established and has continued to benefit from the charity bash. The funds go toward numerous community events, such as the Chili Cook-Off and the Twilight Concert Series.

The Middle School Athletic Program and Youth Community Service (YCS) also receive a financial boost. However, this year, the PARF will divvy up the proceeds with the Palo Alto Foundation for Education (PAFE) and the All Schools Fund (ASF).

Camille Townsend, a member of the school board, thinks the ball's planners and sponsors truly understand the integral role that Palo Alto's education system takes in shaping the city.

"The reason people move to Palo Alto is because of the schools," Townsend said. "I don't see [school programs] as extras but they are things that make our schools unique and really capture our students' imaginations and helps them do wonderful things when they're in our schools. Also it helps them when they move on from our schools."

Somebody who understands the importance of education is Cuong Nguyen. A Web designer at Yahoo, Nguyen will be the evening's featured artist. He painted a vibrant Venetian scene as a sprawling triptych. Standing nine feet long and three feet high, the picturesque view of eight gondolas resting will decorate the courtyard.

Nguyen, who emigrated from Vietnam in 1991 when he was 21, studied at the Academy of Art in Ho Chi Minh City. He grew up in classrooms that usually had precious few materials such as pencils and textbooks. When he arrived in California, Nguyen taught himself enough English by listening to tapes and went on to major in illustration at San Jose State University.

Dykwel approached Nguyen in June at the San Rafael Italian Street Painting Festival, where he was part of the artist showcase. Honored by her request to paint something, he devoted a few hours every day to the triptych for six weeks. Upon finishing it, Nguyen decided to donate his work to the ball's silent auction. In return, he only asked for enough money to cover the cost of materials.

"For me, it's a good chance to make money for schools in Palo Alto," Nguyen said. "Because the economy is not quite up yet, I don't know if people have the money to buy art or not. In Palo Alto, hopefully they do. I cross my fingers that somebody brings it home and it will make money for the schools."

Dykwel and her committee members, who have made preparations since January, hope this ball goes down in history as an event where the community really came together. And though it certainly wouldn't hurt to surpass previous earnings of $130,000, Dykwel just wants guests to be come out and have a good time. Revelers don't have to wear black or white gowns. They will, hopefully, show as much charity as the local businesses have.

"I have never received a 'no' answer," Dykwel said. "That's what's so amazing. If you tell them it's going to benefit the schools and after-school programs, I think in everyone's heart, they want to give back and you just have to tap into it."

What: The city of Palo Alto's Black and White Ball, "Moonlit Cinema Paradiso"

When: Saturday from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Where: Lucie Stern Community Center, 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto

Cost: Tickets are $100 per person and include access to all venues and entertainment, dancing, appetizers, tastings and no-host cocktails. They can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at (415) 421-TIXS or online at or in-person at the Lucie Stern Community Center.

Info: Call the Ball Hotline at (650) 321-7123 or visit Free shuttle service will be offered at Palo Alto High School and Town & Country Shopping Center parking lots, at the corner of Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real.
Schedule of Events: Ballroom
7 - 9:30 p.m. The Jeff Hinkin Band
9:45 - 11 p.m. Jonah and Adesha with Let It flow
11 - 11:15 p.m. Announce raffle, silent auction and diamond winners
11:15 - 12:30 a.m. Jonah and Adesha with Let It flow
Theater Patio 7:15 - 9:15 p.m. Bray
9:45 - 11:45 p.m. Poncho Sanchez
Magic Castle Theater Stage
9 - 9:15 p.m. "Swingtime" Stanford Swing Dancers
9:15 - 9:45 p.m. West Bay Opera 10 - 11:30 p.m. Mandy Flowers
"Club Tuscany"
7 p.m. - 12:30 a.m. DJ Clyde L
Cinema Paradiso Amphitheater
7 p.m. - 12:30 a.m. Classic black-and-white movies
Main Courtyard
Violinist Lisa Chu

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