TIME Russian Debutante Ball

A Dazzling Homage to the Past at London’s Russian Debutante Ball

Martin Parr photographed the high-profile event

Though this may look like a scene from the pages of Anna Karenina, the Debutante Ball is a hotly anticipated annual event for London’s Russian elite. A revival of the feted tradition of the young upper class “coming out” into society, in a modern context, the ball is a chance for New Money to rub shoulders with aristocracy and for Russia’s wealthy to mingle, make contacts and show off their two step.

Held on Nov. 19 at Grosvenor House, the evening honors a bygone era, kept alive by the country’s penchant for ceremony. “All events tell us things about society and I am aware of the Russians in London, so I wanted to taste what they were like,” Martin Parr, who photographed the ball for Magnum Photos, tells TIME. Their taste is rich, in both senses of the word, with a feast of caviar, confit of duck, Portland crab, slow-cooked Welsh lamb and chocolate and marmalade dessert.

Amidst a sea of white tulle, Swarovski crystals, diamonds and mink, the blushing young women and their male counterparts graced the dance floor while a swing orchestra kept the beat. There were performances by the Royal Ballet Roberta Marquez, Bolshoi Ballet and Natalia Kremen Ballet School as well as a recital by accordionist Iosif Purits. “It did seem quite traditional to me.” says Parr. “The big surprise was the band playing and people dancing while dinner was served!”

Parr has documented many balls in his time, including the famous Opera Ball in Vienna, and, he says, this one was not much different. “I liked the Russian ball,” he says. “And although it was quite similar to the many balls I have shot before, it was good to see the debs and the assorted Russian aristocracy.”

Martin Parr is a British documentary photographer, photojournalist and photobook collector. He is a member of Magnum Photos.

Olivier Laurent, who edited this photo essay, is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Alexandra Genova is a writer and contributor for TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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