As in former editions a "strict" dress code – evening dress at the least - is mandatory. Most of the guests put a lot of effort into their costume for the evening and there were several different interpretations of Belle and the Beast as well as other horned, spellbound or fantastic characters.
Walking through the great entrance gate guarded by four huge stone lions we came along a path lit by candles. Ghostly ballet dancers (from Danscentrum Danza Versuschka V) whirled around the shadows of the old building and we had a first glimpse at the illustrious party of guests. The entrance hall with its great marble staircase gives a good impression of the grandeur a ball like this had two centuries ago.
Before entering the main ball room all male guests had to place their roses in a vase. Otherwise the guards wouldn't let them pass. In the ball room we were welcomed by stilt walkers who gave pralines to the ladies and showered some of the guests in glitter. Between the great Art Noveau pillars living statues added to the haunted atmosphere. The main ball room was dramatically illuminated.
The program started with Lieven Baert's historical dance lesson. As in previous editions he really did a great job in leading a huge number of couples through steps and formations – mainly polonaise and waltz and quadrille at the end of the lesson. That also included some refined manners and Lieven reminded us not to forget "the reverence" a small bow to your partner and in formations to your fellow dancers. The dancing couples were a spectacular sight and it was great fun to waltz in this grand ball room.
Opening Dance - photograph taken by Bart Kools
After that the goddess Diana was introduced - embodied by Florence Aseult-Undomiel, who fascinated the attendants with a ritual like dance – Belle (Daisy De Vries) and the Beast (Cela Yildiz) made their entrance to open the ball together with a few Children of Diana. Afterwards the dance floor was open for all guests to dance the night away. DJ XLII offered a selection of dark romantic music. He swapped places for an hour with his guest DJ Normkompatibel. Due to the acoustics of the hall bass tones seemed to be too low or too loud at different parts of the location and regarding all the animals sleeping nearby, volume had to be reduced after midnight.
Apart from dancing the Absinthe bar drew a lot of attention with its exquisite utensils and both nice and ghostly looking staff who celebrated the preparation of the drinks. Also there was a winter garden to take a stroll in that was truly enchanting. The photo-corner was located
there and many guests got their pictures taken by Fred Lo Cascio.
Upstairs 14 different vendors had set up their stalls and displayed their goods: Cupcakes, clothing, jewelry, custom fangs and other accessories in gothic and steampunk styles. Also you could get a mask or a collier painted on. Even though the location was spacious, the staff at the bar was very small (3-5 people) and they struggled to satisfy hundreds of thirsty guests. To queue 30 - 45 minutes for a drink is a real drawback if you're thirsty after dancing. Beer was empty around 1 AM (if this was a metal festival something terrible would have happened) and the red wine wasn't really our cup of tea. Even though the staff at the bar, the wardrobe and cash registry were very friendly and highly professional all the time.Several suitors stormed the venue and tried to free Belle. Of course the ghostly guards stepped in and several fencing sequences where the result. Every time the suitors came further until one reached the middle of the staircase where he was thrown down the stairs by the Beast.
Later the raffle winners were drawn and the Beast gave his presents - a self written poem and a bouquet of roses - to Belle.
It is undoubted that Gala Nocturna is unique and Viona is a hostess who puts great efforts in every detail of the evening. The new venue was an exciting innovation for the guests but also brought new challenges (e.g. sound engineering). Older problems like the infamous queue for drinks seemed to emerge for the worse while the cash registry system seemed to be improved regarding the length of queue. Since there is such a good program and one doesn't want to miss a thing every minute queuing is waisted time. Apart from that you're never alone and with a little dedication more than one interesting chat with complete strangers was started in such a queue.
The guests from all over Europe are another highlight of this event and a good representation of the wide range of dark romantic people. It is only natural that there have to be different opinions about dress and music and I'm sure Viona and Dirk try to satisfy them all if possible. For my taste the music set this year was a little too light and could have been darker or more gothic. But in the end I was a very happy horned demon and taking a stroll through Antwerp's Zoo at night was a great experience.
Official Website: http://www.gala-nocturna.com/