Long gloves, dancers for hire and sausages until dawn at the most famous ball

Alles Walzer! (let all the waltzes begin!).

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 March 2023 Wednesday 23:52
11 Reads
Long gloves, dancers for hire and sausages until dawn at the most famous ball

Alles Walzer! (let all the waltzes begin!). With this phrase, one of the most anticipated ceremonies on the Viennese cultural calendar opens each year: the Ball of the Vienna Philharmonics, which is always held on a Thursday of the last two weeks of January in the majestic golden hall of the Musikverein, which few days before it has hosted the orchestra's great annual event: the New Year's concert, even though the dance ceremony was born more than a decade before the most lavish and renowned musical event that takes place every January 1, filling all the homes of the force of the waltz and the essential Radetzky March by Johann Strauss.

The Dance teacher –currently the designated member of a specific committee– makes this invitation to the public that follows the celebration after the presentation and opening of the gala by the debutantes themselves: girls of at least 17 years and boys of at least 18 who have not participated in the festival before and keep alive the founding spirit of a tradition that in the city dates back to the beginning of the 18th century and that the Philharmonic began in 1924.

Until then, Viennese balls were organized by guilds. And that is how they continue to be celebrated in the city. Before the carnival festivities, the Chimney Sweeps Dance takes place –which opens the cycle already in November, when in the past all the chimneys were ready to face the winter–, the Pastry Chefs Dance, the Flowers Dance, the of Industry and Technology, the Dance of the Doctors, the Dance of the Sciences, the Dance of the Hunters, the Dance of the Coffee Growers and the Dance of the Jurists. And so on until the 450 dances and galas where the waltz is the great protagonist.

High society had reserved the Opera Ball, with its own Opernball or Debutante Ball, which transcended borders thanks to the glamor of the imperial court of Sisi and Francisco José. Until well into the 20th century, hand in hand with a cultural renewal based on tradition, the Philharmonic created its own gala. The occasion deserved that Richard Strauss himself composed a fanfare for the occasion fixed since then in the repertoire of the gala.

"The country loves you, the world honors you", was the proclamation of Anton Wildgans, poet and director of the People's Theater that appeared in print in the first brochure of the dance. An ode to the Philharmonic that the participants offer to their components, accompanying their music with their enthusiastic dance on the dance floor. The dance order has also remained unchanged from the beginning: first it is the turn of the newcomers. They with white evening dress, to the feet, and long white gloves. They in tailcoats, with black jackets and tails, and patent leather shoes.

Not everyone can be a rookie. Beyond the traditional rule of "not being handcuffed", candidates must undergo a rigorous selection process that begins in November with a sort of audition at the Elmayer Dance School, where they must demonstrate their ability to dance the Viennese waltz, with its natural and reverse turns.

Attendance at all the choreography rehearsals with which the debutants will surprise the audience is, logically, mandatory, since everything is calculated in detail. Even the musicians who require it attend the dance classes, since, following the tradition, the members of the Philharmonic take turns in the interpretation forming two orchestras so that they can also dance in the hall.

As for non-debutants, participants must reserve their ticket, and if they wish, a box from which they can enjoy, in addition to the incredible views, champagne, petit fours, and sausages to regain strength late at night. And it is that the dance lasts until five in the morning.

There are many attendees who go to dress rental and tailoring services, such as Hoffmann, and also to some dance classes. In addition, a previous dinner is held at the Hotel Imperial Vienna. So that no girl is left unpaired, there is a peculiar service of professional dancers, the so-called taxidancers.

A magical night seasoned with the most popular waltzes, polkas, marches and fanfares, by the hand of one of the most popular symphony orchestras, which during the successive editions of the Ball of the Philharmonics has been directed by figures of the stature of Claudio Abbado, Leonard Bernstein, Herbert Blomstedt, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Herbert von Karajan, Zubin Mehta or Riccardo Muti. In this latest edition, the performance for the first time of a work by the popular film soundtrack composer John Williams after the first waltz stood out.

It goes without saying that throughout its 80 editions – the dance was interrupted in the 1930s and during the Second World War and later in the first Gulf War – the gala has hosted personalities from history. International music figures such as Richard Strauss, José Carreras, Jonas Kaufmann or Lang Lang have formed part of its Board of Trustees.