The night before, some of the guests met at "Het Elfde Gebod". It was a very nice icebreaker because the cozy and warm atmosphere of this bar, crowded with figurines of saints originally from the Cathedral nearby, made it easy to get acquainted with each other. Another highlight of this bar - and Antwerp in general - is the huge selection of beers. They come in extravagant glasses and taste very nice.
The day of the ball
Final preparations were done and we walked to Augustinus church. We were gaped at, but the closer we get to the location the more equally anachronistic dressed people there were. The church has quite a modern entrance where Viona and Dirk, the hosts of the ball, welcomed their guests.
Entering the vestibule after the Swiss guard opened their crossed halberds for us, we got stuck in a huge queue of people waiting to buy coupons for food and drinks. This cash-free system certainly makes it easier for the staff at the bar. But wouldn’t it be better to sell some of them in advance (e.g. the night before at “Het Elfde Gebod” or online “prepaid coupons” that get handed out right when you show your ticket number) to prevent that long queue in the beginning ? Except for this first long queue, the average time waiting for drinks was around 10 minutes.
When I took a step into the nave of Augustinus church I was awestruck. All those extravagantly dressed people and creatures that looked more like characters from a dark fantasy novel than human beings. And all this splendor against the background of this beautiful gothic architecture.
It wasn’t long before the first part of the program started.
A historical dance lesson was given by Lieven Baert, a historical court dance specialist. Step by step he led a huge number of couples through some pretty difficult steps and figures. Despite the varied outfits this created a beautiful impression of a renaissance courtyard.
It was followed by Ievannah Lightingale presenting her dance interpretation of love, jealousy, murder and remorse. Her defined dance technique, paired with a very good sense of expression and drama, was breathtaking (Movie).
Afterwards His Holiness Pope Severus of Lamia came forth and invited everybody to get his blessings during the opening ceremony. It was a display of decadence, dark religion and a good portion of horror. Using his own blood as ink Pope Severus baptized his daughter first, and afterwards everybody who came on stage by marking them with the downward facing cross (Movie).
I couldn’t resist taking part in an act of such delicate blasphemy.
After the opening ceremony a disturbing performance of “HipSicknatus Monstrosus” by Hipsick Theatre started, with five people caged in huge translucent plastic boxes. The plastic was ripped open and the audience was confronted with their worst sins and obsessions. It’s no use recollecting every detail of this eccentric 20-minute performance. But I’ll surely never forget the intense insanity of a girl shaking in seizures from electric shocks (Movie).
The dance floor was opened and Thomas Manegold, DJ at Göttertanz, entertained us with a fine selection of neoromantic and gothic music. He managed to gratify a lot of different tastes in music.
The opening ceremony was also an initiation for a new family. The family book was brought and every new ambassador wrote down his or her name, and photos were taken during the attachment of the family’s sigil. As beautiful as this rite was, it created some confusion for the rest of the guests. A lot of people misunderstood the opening of the photo corner, and before it was clearly announced that only the pictures of the new ambassadors and their gothfathers were taken, some waited in the queue for half an hour or more and were understandably disappointed.
Apart from all this queuing for drinks and picture taking, time flew by so quickly. You could spend your money or just gaze at the displays of antique garments (Très Trut) or jewelry (Elegant Curiosities, Flair Extraordinaire and Dark Enchantment). They had twin-headed ducklings and jewelry made of beetle wings. Another fancy sight was the well-established Absinthe bar. They celebrated the art of making this drink with some exquisite utensils.
Photo by Cecile Dubuis (morbidfrog.co.uk)
And most of all you could lose yourself dancing in a church full of lovely, stunning, curious looking people.
Since I waited about six years to finally attend this neoromantic ball I may be a bit biased. Of course I had some notion of what to expect from pictures and articles of previous balls. In the end it turned out to be very different in some respects but very typical for gothic events in others. Certainly it is an event to display extravagant fashion, and picture taking seems very important. One could believe this to be a sign of shallowness. But comparing it to other gothic events you get what you paid for. Great performances, thoughtfully composed details like light engineering and well costumed actors and security staff. I’d rather think all this effort is made to gather these people and enjoy the morbid beauty of this church (and life). And even if some seem like mannequins - beautiful but mute – most of the people I met and spoke to, proved to be warm hearted and open minded. I’ll be happy to meet them again – next year.
Thanks to Viona Ielegems and Dirk von Heinrichshorst for this awesome night. Also thanks to SoulStealer Photography and Cecile Dubuis for additional pictures in this article. And very special thanks to Ry Hermann for editorial support.