On Saturday the 8th of March it was once again time for one of the Gothic gala events with international fame. Goths and Fantasy aficionados from all over Europe gathered for this year’s edition of Gala Nocturna, themed La Belle et la Bête, inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1946 movie The Beauty and the Beast. After previous locations Chapel of Altena in Kontich and the Saint Antonius church in the heart of Antwerp’s old town they now moved to the Antwerp Zoo’s Marble Hall, a beautiful Belle Epoch building part of the Zoo’s Edwardian structure.
Everyone who has been to previous locations will no doubt agree that this was a vast improvement for various reasons.
Entertainment already started as soon as the doors opened, with girls dressed like a kind of veiled spectres came out to dance along the queue of guests waiting to enter the venue, which definitely made the wait more pleasant. Of course, it also helped that the weather was absolutely splendid (small fact: it was the warmest March 8 ever recorded in Belgium). Beautiful paper bag lights decorated with butterflies were lighting the pathway that formed the queue, arranging for an orderly entrance that looked pretty at the same time.
Once inside organizers Viona Ielegems and her partner Dirk Von Heinrichshorst greeted visitors and hand stamps marked whether they would belong to Belle’s (red stamp) or the Beast’s (black stamp) court. It was a small gesture, but it contributed to the atmosphere in a fun way nonetheless.
As always most people had tried to adhere to the theme when it came to their outfits, but several had arrived in various styles of historical dress, J-fashion, steampunk, dieselpunk or even evening wear that had little or nothing to do with Beauty and the Beast. While it is true that the dress code is quite strict in a sense, the organization is really rather open-minded as to how you interpret it, so as long as you’ve clearly done a genuine effort to fit in and abide by the rules listed on the website, you won’t be denied entrance.
In the end of the day, this is a Gothic gala event. This of course doesn’t mean that steampunks or dieselpunks aren’t welcome. I’ve seen several visitors incorporate steampunk into their outfit, or that wore more aristocratic versions of steampunk or dieselpunk evening wear full stop. Not only that, quite a few of the vendors, most noteworthy Oh, Marisha! and Wonderland Designs, were specifically catering to steampunks with some of the things they sold. So while this isn’t a steampunk event, it is definitely ‘punk-friendly so to speak. Plus it poses a nice challenge to come up with an outfit that is both appropriate for a gala event and steam or diesel at the same time.
Instead of one main room with stage and a smaller side room hosting the bar like the previous couple of years this location offered a grand hall, a ballroom with bar, an indoors garden (the beautiful winter garden) and upstairs area that hosted the market.
This made for plenty of room to move around, even with all the ladies wearing beautiful hoop skirts and trained dresses.
Another great thing was the variation in the rooms, they were all very different, which made for a wide range of backdrops for those that wanted to take photographs, and made it even more fun to just wander around admiring the many great costumes and outfits as well as to take in the environment.
Having the separate downstairs ballroom also meant that those that didn’t wish to participate in the historical dance lesson could easily avoid it without being stuck in the same area, cramped for space to go do something else other than watch.
Even though the vending area was small all in all, it was generally still large enough to be able to admire all the wares for sale. While the sellers were pretty limited in numbers still, there were more than usual and the things for sale were very varied ranging from fashion, accessories to custom fangs.
What I also really loved was the fact that they not only had the regular (soft) drinks and alcoholic beverages on the menu as well as some cocktails and absinthe but also served four different organic fruit juices. Drinks were not the only organics on offer, as organic gardner and cook Geert Groffen and his staff prepared pizza bread, veggie burgers and pumpkin soup for hungry guests in a corner of the entrance hall. For those with a sweet tooth, there were the, non-organic but delicious nonetheless, cupcakes and pastries of Lip Lek Lekker Cupcakes who were stationed in the vendor’s area.
While the stairs were a bit haphazard for those in enormous skirts and dresses and not so practical footwear, they did provide excellent opportunity to take photos from and off, or simply sit down for a moment and rest as seating was limited.
But it was alright as the stairs were not only surprisingly comfortable but also clean. Plus the light there was pretty good to take photos in, which made for many a great photo of the splendidly dressed attendants.
The location and wardrobe displays aside, this edition of Gala Nocturna was the great success that it was not only because of the location and the variety within that in itself, but also because of the program. Not only were there things that the Gala is so famous for, such as the photo location where guests can have their photos taken, this year in the winter garden by Fred Lo Cascio, and the dance lessons by Lieven Baert but also the other roaming entertainment and planned performances. Living statues, stilt walkers, the goddess Diana, and of course the stars of the evening, Belle and the Beast, who were regularly plagued by one of Belle’s suitors storming the event to attempt to steal her away from the Beast, with awesome stage fighting scenes happening in the progress, containing sword and knife fighting and even rolls down the marble stairs. All of this and more only contributed to the event being simply pretty much epic this year.
The one and only downside was that the bar was sadly completely understaffed, so once the party got properly started it took easily over 30 minutes to be able to get a drink. But aside from that, it was an absolutely brilliant event, and hopefully we’ll see the 2015 edition return to this location as it has proven to be rather perfectly suitable for Gala Nocturna. The event may be pricy, but in this new location, with this kind of program, it is well worth the money and without doubt this was one of the best, possibly the best, edition we have attended so far.
For many more photos of this event, click here.