Review: Pembroke May Ball

Image credit: Will Tilbrook

On Wednesday 21st June, Pembroke was decked out with paintings and sculptures, transformed into Venice for a glittering night. La Biennale di Venezia is a festival of contemporary art held in Venice, an eagerly anticipated occasion occurring every other year, much like Pembroke’s May Ball. 

The Italian theme kicked off before doors opened with Aromi pizza slices handed out in the queue, but sadly not to those of us who were right near the back. Upon arrival, guests were greeted in the by a champagne reception with a string quartet playing on the front lawn – the head porter comically keeping a close eye on Pembroke’s prized lawn. The Old Court decorations were phenomenal: life-size figures suspended from wires running across the skyline of Pembroke’s oldest buildings. 

The outstanding decoration continued as guests walked from court to court – a Venetian bridge complete with painted canal; tepees strung with fairy lights; vibrant centrepieces on tables and 3D paperwork animals and figures bursting from the walls. Foundress building was a spectacle in itself with contemporary art projected onto its façade.

From the heights of the Ferris wheel, guests gazed across Cambridge with a spectacular view of the Fitzwilliam Museum illuminated against the night sky. The key to any May Ball, dodgems, were also heartily enjoyed by all, whilst a balloon modeller provided a novel addition as guests unleashed their inner child at the end of a busy term. Comedy events featured a stellar line-up including Dane Baptiste and local Valencians, which were staged in a cosy and intimate space in one of the smaller courts. 

An incredible array of food and drink was on offer from local Cambridge businesses. From doughnuts to Thai green curry, pizza to Jack’s Gelato, there was something delicious for all tastes and queues were minimal – it was all too easy to swing between the gin bar and Aromi stand on repeat. The champagne flowed all night alongside a cocktail bar with some twists on classic drinks, whilst the tequila shots stand was busy even at 5am. 

Everyone was in the party mood, including the Master, Lord Chris Smith, who attended the rather crowded ceilidh and generously offered the garden of the master’s lodge to the May Ball Committee for an open-air cinema, which providing revellers with a much-needed chilling zone to grab a blanket or snooze in a hammock. 

It was wonderful to see the May Ball Committee using a fraction of ticket sales to support the Jo Cox Studentship. The Studentship was established to fund PhDs in migration and refugee studies in memory of former MP and Pembroke alumnus Jo Cox. It was especially poignant to see so many people supporting the cause as everyone gathered for the survivors’ photo at quarter to six, somewhat dishevelled, but still sporting a simple pale blue ribbon in memory of Jo Cox and in solidarity with refugees around the world. 

The night rounded off in true Valencian style with a hearty rendition of Robbie Williams’ ‘Angels’ as friends slung their arms around each other in celebration of another year at Pembroke.

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