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October 26, 2012

Celebrations with Culture

We take a virtual spin around the world to explore events with an international flair.

From gigantic bashes at world-class resorts to more intimate gatherings laden with tradition, the holiday season offers a smorgasbord of
creative ideas for celebrations. Here are some events that take their inspiration from cultures rich with tradition, lush with vibrant color and full of quiet but dazzling beauty. Because even if it's not the holiday season, it's always time to celebrate!

Celebrating Cuba's Contrasts
Cuba is a dizzying mix of politics, history and the arts, but it is also a land of tropical magic, pulsing rhythms and vivid colors--an apt theme for a New Year's Eve event at the MGM Grand Resort in Las Vegas, NV. King Dahl, executive director of event design for MGM Resorts Events, and his team captured the essence of Cuba in the 2011 New Year's Eve bash for 2,100, named "Once," (pronounced OHN-say in Spanish). Their goal was to provide guests with a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was as surprising and eye-opening as Cuba itself.

They began outside with the entrance, where they created a full-scale Cuban courtyard complete with columns of vines, palm trees, concrete fountains and ornate urns filled with exotic flowers and tropical greenery. From there, guests followed the red carpet inside to a Havana street scene flanked with columns and balconies, where musicians played salsa and Tropicana dancers added to the beat. Abstract panels with renditions of tobacco leaves adorned the walls, and backlit windows created an aura of a Cuban sunset. Cigar rollers handcrafted smokes for the guests as they strolled through the streets.

Then the scene transformed as a giant curtain dropped to reveal a Tropicana-style nightclub from the '50s with a modern twist. Suddenly, the room was dazzling white, with giant box chandeliers suspended from the ceiling dangling sparkling crystal beads. As the music kicked in, the white palette served as a canvas for LED lighting that made the room pulse with bold colors.

The main stage penetrated deep into the dining area, integrating guests and performers, and perimeter stages were placed throughout the room. Four different centerpieces, representing the different faces of Cuba, graced the tabletops blending elements such as wood, crystal, glass and metal with tropical blossoms.

From street to supper club, this event dazzled guests with two distinctive experiences connected by one cohesive theme: the vibrant, contradictory marvel that is both Cuba and New Year's Eve.

Sparkles, Spangles and Halloween
Nothing says "American" like bling--dangling from the ceiling, cascading from the walls and flowing from tabletops. And when Minneapolis-based Event Lab was planning its eighth annual Fall Festival, typically held during Halloween week, they decided to forego the typical orange, brown and gold fall palette, opting instead for a dazzling display of crystal, silver, sapphire and white.

Event Lab partners with the Hilton Minneapolis every year for this project, which is a celebration and thank you to past, current and potential clients. Event Lab handles the design and décor, which all comes from their own inventory, and the Hilton plans and provides the cuisine and bar service. "It's an opportunity for the partners to showcase new products, design capabilities and menu items," says Pete Nelson, Event Lab designer and a 2011 Spotlight Awards finalist.

Nelson and the Event Lab team created a wonderland of spangles and sparkles in one of the Hilton's ballrooms. One of their goals was to design a series of experiences, different spaces that would encourage people to move around and explore. Lush white lounge areas and casual cocktail groupings were highlighted by dramatic lighting and eight-foot centerpieces that revolved slowly on the tables.

One of the unique elements of this event is that children are invited to come with their parents, dressed in their Halloween costumes. "It's not often that you can take kids to something like this," says Nelson. "But we thought it would be a great way to have more fun and encourage more people to come."

A separate kids' area was set up next to the bling room. There, they could play games, feast off their own buffet full of kid-friendly food, bounce in the moon walk and visit the cookie decorating station. At several points during the evening, Hilton staff paraded the little goblins and ghouls through the hotel treat-or-treating.

It's an unusual way to celebrate Halloween, but totally effective, Nelson says. "We used to do the pumpkin and hay bale thing for the festival, but then we decided a long time ago that we could still call it a Fall Festival but change the theme. We want to give our guests a different experience every year."

Ancient Traditions, Contemporary Style
Celebrating the Chinese New Year takes on special meaning in San Francisco, which has one of the highest Chinese populations outside of China. It's also one of the most affluent and influential cultural forces in the city, so the New Year celebrations tend to be over-the-top. For two weeks, Chinese Americans attend lavish feasts, dress in their finest costumes and follow ancient traditions intended to help them enter their new year healthy, happy and prosperous.

So it comes as little surprise that one of the city's most premier events is centered around the holiday. Every year, the San Francisco Symphony hosts a blow-out series of events to thank its donors and fans, many of whom are members of the Chinese American community. For the past several years, local event company Blueprint Studios has been asked to design the evening's signature event: The Imperial Dinner, given for its most generous donors.

After an afternoon concert, which is attended by 3,000 people and which features both traditional and modern Chinese music and performances, the crowd is invited to a festival reception in the lobby area of the concert hall. Then, 400 of most select attendees cross the street to City Hall for an opulent feast.

"This is a very important tradition," says Paul Moss, one of the three partners who is behind Blueprint Studios. "It's a large, formal banquet with 10-15 courses served family style." Each year, the theme is based on input from the volunteer board of directors, largely Chinese American women with a history of supporting the symphony.

This year, Blueprint transformed the dining area into an Imperial jewelry box complete with a backdrop of imperial doors, boxed gifts for attendees, rich tabletop details and dragon-inspired visuals. Vivid color palettes of emerald green and purple tones added to the elegance. Rich tabletops were reminiscent of times past at emperors' tables, and warm-patterned lighting with dragon-inspired visuals add to the Oriental ambience.

"Every year, we need to come up with a new design for the event," says Moss. "Our three partners bring different talents to the table, so we're able to keep the event vibrant and fresh, which is the way a New Year's should be."

A Dream Sangeet in Waikiki
Lush, lavish, luxe. When an affluent couple from Jakarta, Indonesia decided to have their destination wedding in Hawaii, they wanted nothing but the best for the 300 guests who were flying in from around the world for the four-day celebration. To pull it all off, they went to Honolulu-based Current Affairs, which has been specializing in just those types of celebrations for more than 27 years.

The biggest celebration in South Asian weddings is traditionally the sangeet, an evening of feasting, entertainment, elaborate décor and rich color. "For this couple's sangeet, we transformed three ballrooms of the Sheraton Waikiki into a Moroccan boudoir," says Phillip Richardson of Current Affairs. "Our goal was to connect with all seven senses, including the mind and heart."

Using a color scheme of blues and oranges, they incorporated color into every detail, from the Raj tents to the furniture and centerpieces.
The sangeet party, which took place at the Sheraton Waikiki, was based on a Moroccan theme with Raj tents from EventAccents, a 20-foot dessert station that dropped from the ceiling, a henna tattooist and hookah den. With a blue and orange color palette, the three ballrooms were transformed into a lavish boudoir full of rich color and intricate detail.

The bride and groom wanted the entire evening to be a spectacle of sound, sight and smells, and so special attention went into the food presentations. After the guests greeted the couple as they made their grand entrance, a curtain was swept aside to reveal one of the ballrooms filled with lavish displays of food from all parts of the world.

But the crowning glory was a custom-made 20-foot circular table that slowly and dramatically dropped from the ceiling, laden with desserts. This was perhaps the most daunting technical challenge for Richardson. "We worked with PSAV on the rigging, which was quite a challenge. Can you imagine one of the motors quitting or the table tipping a few inches?" In time the challenges were worked out with a rim around the table and reliable chain motors.

Throughout the evening, guests were treated to a playground of luxury and entertainment. An aerialist spun from the rigging, dancers danced, smokers indulged in a hookah den and ladies visited henna artists to receive their wedding tattoos. Lights and smoke effects added to the drama.
"It was spectacular," says Richardson. "The dream sangeet they were wishing for."

Event Solutions magazine
Fall 2012

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