The Dance Theatre of Harlem held its star-studded Vision Gala at the elegant Cipriani. Over 300 philanthropists donned their finest attire to help celebrate the company’s 45th anniversary. Corporate and individual sponsors raised over $700,000 that night. Donations from the evening’s festivities went to the Next Generation and Community Engagement funds. Invited guests included Miss USA 2012 Nana Meriweather, journalist Paula Zahn and newly minted Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

First lady Michelle Obama kicked off the night with a special recorded message for the gala’s guests. “You expanded the horizons of generations of young people by teaching them critical skills like discipline and tenacity, responsibility and self-respect. In doing so, you have helped them flourish not just as dancers, but as students, citizens and leaders in their communities,” said Obama as she talked about an event she hosted last year featuring first ladies from around the world and a special presentation by the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

For the Vision Gala, members from the Dance Theatre of Harlem provided a beautiful excerpt performance of “Pas de Dix.” Students from the school—ranging in age from single digits to teenagers—performed “Over the Rainbow” in an equally competent and adorable display of skill.

Valentino D. Carlotti received the Virtuoso Award and had nothing but praise for the 45-year-old organization. “This national and international treasure that is the Dance Theatre of Harlem illustrates the relevance and importance of cultured arts in all manner of life and inspires one to examine one’s own commitment to this standard of excellence,” noted Carlotti, a Goldman Sachs executive and ardent supporter of Dance Theatre of Harlem. Jody Gottfried Arnhold also received an award that night––the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation Medal.

Fashion industry insider Audrey Smaltz conducted a spirited lightning round of live donations. Smaltz peppered her requests—which started at $10,000—with timely jokes and reminders of exactly what the donations purchase—everything from pointe shoes to scholarships. Approximately $70,000 of the evening’s total $700,000 was raised by Smaltz in just minutes.

Besides Smaltz’s humor, flowing cocktails and a scrumptious dinner, guests were also treated to an impromptu performance from Patti LaBelle. The Grammy Award-winning singer received the Arthur Mitchell Vision Award, which was presented by the legendary opera singer Jessye Norman, a longtime Dance Theatre of Harlem board member.

“Jessye Norman is a true diva. When the younger girls call me up, I tell them to look at the OGs,” said LaBelle. “I’ve been in this business for 52 years. I’m 69 years young. I have nothing but wisdom to pass on to this generation. To the Dance Theatre of Harlem, you dance like angels. You move like I move. Hey, I dance a lot but never like that.”

LaBelle went on to say that she hoped she could “live into the award” one day and that she had a song on her heart. She then launched into a soul-stirring rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.”

The audience responded with an “amen” and hearty applause.