Lux Events: The Russian Summer Ball

Sam Kessler (Online Editor)
The upper echelons of Russian society raising money for a good cause

Vast ancient halls filled with the light of hundreds of chandeliers, the aristocrats and socialites of the time twirling, bedecked in gold to the music of an orchestra; the balls of old Russia must have been something to behold. Extravagance tempered with elegance and an inimitable air of sophistication, royalty and politicians alike mingling over endless glasses of champagne, the celebrations described in Tolstoy’s books are near-legendary.

For better or worse, Russia has changed a lot since then. Gone are the royal balls with the palaces bedecked with light, but the memory remains. Since 1996 however, the balls of the past have found a new home – London.

Founded by Alexander Ivanovich Suscenko, members of the Russian émigré community and friends in the capital, the Russian Summer Ball is today one of the highlights of London’s social calendar, and guests include the pinnacle of Russian society. Her Highness Princess Olga of Russia, His Highness Prince Rostislav of Russia, His Excellency the Ambassador of the Russian Federation, the most important representatives from the country make their way to the heart of London to experience a faithful recreation of the traditional balls of the past.

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The ball, however, actually started with a relatively humble aim in mind. “We had to find a way to gather funds for construction of the First Russian Orthodox Church in the UK,” explains Suscenko. “As a result, an idea of bringing Russian people united by mutual history and faith together to enjoy a pleasant evening with people who are also interested in charity and Russian culture became a reality.”

Joined by actors, artists, musicians and fashion, the white tie ball is a regular draw for famous faces the world over, with this year’s 20th anniversary gala promising to be no different. Held in Lancaster House in the heart of Mayfair, a stunning building with a history dating back to that original era of extravagance, the second edition is set to be one of the most impressive yet.

As Vodka is essentially the Russian national drink, what better way to kick of proceedings with what is touted as the ‘Ivan the Terrible Vodka Reception,’ a short, sharp taste of the spirit. Guests will then jump straight into a three course dinner with wine pairings, provided by world-famous dining club Mosimann’s.

If there’s one art form in which Russia excels, its ballet. The country has produced some of the most celebrated dancers both in history and performing today, something which guests will be able to experience first-hand while they dine. One of the world’s most sought after leading ladies, Maria Sascha Khan, and a selection of students from Natalia Kremen Ballet School will perform for guests throughout the sumptuous feast.

Of course there’s more to the ball than just a chance to delve into and enjoy the heights of Russian culture. All proceeds will go to the Romanov Fund for Russia, a charity dedicated to helping those in need in Russia and the wider world. The ball plays a huge part in funding the work started by Prince Dimitri Romanov, much of it thanks to the silent auction which takes place at the end of dinner.

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From there things become far more energetic, a sabrage signalling the start of the dancing, though guests may want to let the Cossaks kick off proceedings by themselves. Igor Outkine’s Viennese Fever Orchestra will serenade guests with classical pieces fit for old Russian royalty – many of whom will of course be in attendance – before leading into a vibrant take on traditional Gypsy music from the Mazaika band.

The Russian Summer Ball is a magnificent expression of Russian tradition, one that holds true to those of centuries past. “The only difference,” says Suscenko, “between the balls described in Tolstoy's books 200 years ago, and balls we organise nowadays, is that they are not held in Russia anymore.”

With carriages at 1am, there’s plenty of time to enjoy the opulence of the ball in the equally sumptuous surroundings of Lancaster House. It’s an experience of Russian high society that is second-to-none. Fortunately, you don’t need to be Russian to attend. As Oginiok, one of Russia’s oldest publications says, “The Russian Summer Ball has become a tradition, a ritual and even etiquette for old Russians, new Russians and everybody who simply wants to be Russian – even if only for a couple of hours.” 

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Russian Summer Ball tickets are priced at £195 for dinner and dance, £95 for after dinner only. To purchase, CLICK HERE.

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