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You Shall Go To The Ball

You Shall Go To The Ball

In a world where magic seems of short supply and fantasy is left to Hollywood, it’s nice to know we can claw back some of the romance and mystery from the days gone by. Viona Ielegems has long waved this magic with her photography and in the past few years has taken to hosting events along with her husband Dirk von Heinrichshorst. From Victorian Picnics, romantic balls, shows and extravaganzas. Having attended a couple of her events, the most recent being Danse Macabre Vampire Ball in Ghent and Gala Nocturna in Antwerp, I can honestly say they are quite an immersive and extraordinary experience. I particularly liked the historical dance lesson by Lieven Baert; all these fabulously dressed individuals moving to a beautiful choreography. Were it not for the fabulous light show on the walls, you could quite image yourself transported back in time. I caught up with the lovely Viona after Gala Nocturna in February:

What inspired you to run events and how did you go about your first few?
I was always fascinated by costume movies, especially the ball-scenes. As a romantic teenager I dreamt of participating in such a ball. Years later, I graduated in Photography and translated these romantic dreams to photographs. Yet I wanted to go one step further and transform those photographs into real life and make them accessible for other people as well. I invited all my friends to attend my first real photo vernissage, but it would be more than just a vernissage, they were invited to wear evening wear or period costumes and would be immersed into a true romantic ball. As a location for this event I chose a small Neo-gothic church. The evening was a grand success as every guest was allowed to invite two other friends and as entry fee they were asked to bring a bottle of Champaign! This resulted in a decadent and very memorable first edition of Gala Nocturna.

Six Years later we can look back on many beautiful historical-inspired events and balls and Gala Nocturna has become one of the most exclusive romantic balls of its time! People watch closely what we will do next. Among our events we have a noble blood vampire ball, one of the biggest Halloween events in Belgium and a romantic summer ball. All our events are held in historical buildings such as rococo and renaissance castles, baroque churches and gothic chapels.

How do you go about deciding on themes?
We always try to encourage our guests to explore something new. As we set a strict dress-code for our balls, our guests need to search and learn more about the theme. We’ve had obvious themes in the past, such as “masquerade”, “Virgin Queen” etc, but with “Russian Fairytale” we wanted to create something very different. We want to give our guests the opportunity to expand their borders of creativity. To help our guests, we always create a mood-board to show the look and feel of a certain style. The theme “Russian Fairytale” came from our own interest in the Russian folktales and legends. Next to that, we find the Russian style of folk costumes very interesting and elaborate. And I think our guests responded to that theme very well, we saw some really impressive costumes!

What sorts of themes would you never go for?
I think we would always choose a theme that has something to do with historical costumes or folk costumes. Or at least a theme that asks a good proportion of creativity from our guests. It should always be a challenge to make or assemble your costume. And in the end the costume and look for the ball should be one to be proud of. You don’t get the chance to dress up so extensively every day, so our guests should go for it all the way!

Describe the type of people who come to your balls.
The audience of our events come from all over Europe and abroad, we have young and older people, there’s no specific age for our balls. But they all have one thing in common, and that’s their passion for costumes.

Why do you think there is a demand for these sorts of events in today’s lifestyle?
People are forced to live a very high speed, money-dominated life. In our world they find a door to escape for a while and to linger in another dimension where they can enjoy being the person they wish they’d be, this can be a princess, a mysterious lord or an old goddess… We create a dreamy atmosphere where fantasy is allowed and where people are invited to join in a dance with beauty and emotion.

How many hours preparation would you say goes into an event?
It’s impossible to translate those preparations in hours. We spend months preparing our events. It goes from evenings of brainstorming to finding the right artists and people involved for the technical plan to the very intensive work of building up light and sound settings etc. It goes from creating this special atmosphere, first in our heads, then on paper and finally in reality! To conclude: it’s really a lot of work!

gala nocturna

Myself and my husband at the last Gala Nocturna

What has been your favourite moment from an event so far?
It’s actually every time the same moment, and that’s the moment when all the preparations are done, the doors of the ball are open, the guests have just arrived and enter the ballroom, and you can see on their faces that they are in awe. Everything comes together: the great costumes, the beautiful music, the intriguing light projections on the walls, the little twinkle lights flowing through the air. It’s magic! It’s the moment when we say: yeah! That’s why we do it!

If you could hold a ball anywhere in the world, where would that be?
I’m very happy to have our balls in my own country of Belgium. We have such beautiful and undiscovered buildings that are perfect for our balls. Naturally I dream of well-known castles and palazzo’s to hold our balls, but I’m absolutely happy with our current locations.

And lastly, what would you ask of someone who is thinking about attending one of your balls?
We only ask them to be dressed creatively and in the style of the theme.

gala nocturna

Viona and her husband and co-organiser Dirk

Read more about Danse Macabre

All flyer photos by Viona, last two by Antwerp Gazette
Published in Devolution