Gala Nocturna

For those who are not familiar with Gala Nocturna, it is a Gothic gala organized in Belgium by Daila Laika that attracts guests from literally all over the globe. I believe it actually has more foreign visitors than Belgians present. It is held yearly, in a fantastic location that adds to the atmosphere and is known for its fantastically outfitted guests, themes, on site photo shoots, acts (which have ranged from fashion shows by Viona and Vecona to dance recitals, dance and musical performances) and absinthe bar. It’s one of the few Belgian events, that actively welcomes the steampunk aesthetic, so you can always see a couple present.

It’s an event a lot of people, myself and my husband included, look forward to. Generally we book tickets as soon as they become available as it tends to sell out. We’ve attended every single edition since the 3rd, back when it was still held in the wonderful Altena Chapel in Kontich.

Just like last year, this edition was held in the St-Augustinus Church in the centre of Antwerp and this year’s theme was A Russian Fairytale.

Now this year’s edition, I regrettably must admit, was rather bleak in comparison to the previous years. Not so bleak I wouldn’t attend next year, but bleak enough not to jump on tickets until I’ve seen the program.

Speaking of which, the program for this year did look more than a little promising with their very first live gig on site, of the band Qntal, with a meet and greet later. All the classics that add to the fun of Gala Nocturna such as Viona doing an on site photoshoot and the absinthe bar being present were also listed, together with a historical dance lesson by Lieven Baert (who also taught classes at Sarabande last summer). It was also a longer length event, the doors opening half an hour earlier and the bar closing later. So yes, reasons to be looking forward to it a plenty.

So where did it go wrong this time? I would like to start by saying that by all means not everything is the organization’s fault, some things are simply beyond their control and the team of Daila Laika should be applauded for putting on several events a year. That aside I do think that when writing a review one should be honest.

Normally the photo shoot by Viona happens pretty much straight away after the start of the event, about half an hour after doors open, and that works really well. People are still coming in, this avoids the build-up of a queue that is such a bothersome length it takes up considerable amount of the dance floor. Which is what happened by doing the shoot late at night this year. Also, only releasing the photos on Facebook instead of on the website? Just a reminder world, not everyone has jumped onto the FB bandwagon, if you organize an event of this magnitude, work properly with a website for everything.

The historical dance lessons early on just didn’t really work. Don’t get me wrong, the idea behind it is a good one. Teach guests interested a historical Russian dance. The thing is, it leaves people that aren’t interested in dancing with nothing to do when you take up 90% of the main hall. When the vast majority of your guests are on the floor and taking up so much space that the non-participants can barely manoeuvre around them you have a bit of a problem.

Also, while it is a lot of fun to watch people dancing that actually know what they’re doing, it’s little fun to watch people stumble about. This is why dance recitals at Gala Nocturna work so much better, you get to see people at work that are good at what they’re doing.

At Sarabande there was a bit of an issue with lack of entertainment for those not participating in the classes, but it was less bothersome because the classes were in a separate room and thus out of the way for those choosing not to partake.

I do think that historical dance is pretty awesome, but I think that Daila Laika would be better off organising an event purely about historical dance and leave it out of their other events unless they can keep the classes in a separate space like they did at Sarabande. And if they do the latter, also provide something to do for guests that aren’t dancing.

Previous years there were pretty clear announcements of what was happening, this year there was nothing of the sort, which made people miss out on stuff happening on stage. I was at a table toward the back of the venue, and imagine my surprise that I managed to miss the entire tribal dance performance. In a venue that large, you really need announcements, not only because they add to the event but because if you don’t have them, people that aren’t flocking to the stage non stop will miss things.

Not a single bad word about Qntal’s performance though, that was fantastic, and I think it’s great that a band was booked. It also gave those attending the idea that they got value for their ticket (which was €20 a person) which is always an added bonus. Whether the meet and greet ended up happening I don’t know, it still hadn’t happened when I left around 1.30 AM.

There seemed to be so much emphasis this year on the theme that it turned into an event that did have some bits and pieces going on, but that was mainly focusing on see and be seen, rather than on the event itself. I know that a lot of people wondered just what they could wear, previous years there was this neat list summing up the things that would be allowed and those that had been to previous editions still had that in mind, but the current “look at the mood board” on the website was less than helpful for first timers.

In my personal opinion it would be best if for the next edition we saw a return to the glory days of this event, where there were fashion shows, performances and the theme wasn’t so strongly emphasised (people try their best for it and the majority shows up in it anyway), because that just worked so much better.

Oh and more real absinthe at the absinthe bar too please, because when people see “absinthe fountain” on the program they expect the real thing, not absinthe liquor (there is a difference, and the liquor is not real absinthe).

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