Hundreds of costumed dancers, historically relevant cultural presentations, celebrities, dignitaries, a televised broadcast welcoming the world to one of the biggest events in the world. No, this is not the opening ceremony of the Olympics, it’s the beginning of Life Ball, but you would be right to confuse the grandeur of the latter with that of the former. That’s because Life Ball is the world’s biggest, most glamorous party. And, yes, you’ve probably never heard of it.
To call Life Ball over-the-top would make it seem like the party knows where the top is. It does not. The top is not even visible from the stratosphere where the LIfe Ball operates. Every year since 1991 it transforms Vienna’s City Hall, an ornate Gothic palace completed in 1883, into Europe’s largest AIDS fundraiser. There is not only the opening ceremonies out front (this year’s party, held on Saturday, featured performances by Ricky Martin, a speech by Bill Clinton, and a fashion show with dozens of male models) but also a black-tie-or-costumes-only party inside the enormous palace featuring DJs, performances, a sit-down dinner, and something having to do with Kesha, who left her dollar sign when she went to rehab.
Lady Victoria Hervey, a British it-girl and one of the many celebrities in attendance (Courtney Love, Marsha Cross, and Titanic villain Billy Zane were also on hand) told me the whole party was a bit like “a civilized Burning Man.” She’s not wrong. I think it may have something to do with the costumes. This year the theme was “Garden of Earthly Delights” but it sounds way better in German: “Garden der Lust.” That meant there were plenty of guys painted green with overalls and no shirts, women with flowers barely covering their private parts, minotaurs, unicorns, bugs, bees, and anything else that you could put “slutty” in front of and make into a Halloween costume.
There is definitely an anything-goes attitude, which is strange considering the formal setting and the mixed-in people wearing tuxedos and thousand-Euro dresses. Or maybe it was Conchita Wurst, the Austrian drag queen with a beard who won this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, leading to all sorts of guys (in attendance with their girlfriends) spouting stubble and gowns or putting their pecs on display and making their buns look better in high heels.
Yes, the Life Ball is a gay party in that the acts and atmosphere is decidedly queer (everything from finally out Ricky Martin to the world’s most famous transexual Amanda Lepore) even though plenty of the attendees are as straight as they come (though one flirty guy waiting with me in the men’s room line asked me, “How straight do you want me to be?”). Life Ball is a chance for everyone to put on something amazing and see something they’ve never seen before, whether that’s Beyoncé’s choreographer Jonté deep-throating a microphone on stage or RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Jinkx Monsoon singing a song inspired by Addam’s Family Values. It’s a place where you can dance all night and engage in all of your vices (it is sponsored, in part, by Red Bull and Gauloises, after all) without being judged. And, most importantly, it’s somewhere you can do all this in stunning opulence, while raising more than 2 million Euro to fund AIDS charities.
Like I said, it’s the best party in the world, and once you’ve been, you’ll never want to miss it.
Photographs courtesy of Life Ball.