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Specialty Balls Enliven Vienna's Winter Season

December 25, 1988|NINO LO BELLO | Lo Bello is an American author and journalist living in Vienna.

VIENNA — The ball season from New Year's Eve to Ash Wednesday is a delightful time for dedicated dancers--they can attend more than 250 of them.

Whether you belong to the twinkle-toed fraternity or are an inept dance-school dropout, you owe yourself at least one Viennese ball. The Vienna Tourist Board (at 5 Kinderspitalgasse, A1095 Vienna) will send you a detailed list.

Fanfare of Trumpets

The list includes the Bird Watchers' Ball and the Lawyers' Ball, the Opera Ball and the Philharmonic Ball (for which you don't need an invitation, just money for a ticket).

The ball season officially opens at 6 p.m. on Saturday with a fanfare of trumpets from the balcony of the neo-Gothic City Hall. That is followed at 7 p.m. by traditional performances of Johann Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" at the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Volksoper (tickets for these shows are hard to come by).

Immediately after the two shows, which end about 10 p.m. and which the Viennese attend in long gowns and tuxes, the Emperor's Ball is held in the Hofburg, the former royal family's winter palace.

It's a New Year's Eve celebration. At midnight, opera singers and ballet dancers do their stuff. Climaxed with Strauss' "Emperor Waltz," the merriment goes on till dawn and/or noon the next day.

Historical Costumes OK

The Masked Ball at The Court of Empress Maria Theresa is scheduled for Feb. 3.

This occasion is irradiated by people in historical costumes, which you can rent. You don't have to doll up, although about half do.

As you arrive you are welcomed by imperial hussars, liveried footmen and a rococo orchestra in a huge salon where balls used to be staged during the reign of the Hapsburgs.

An imperial banquet is served by waiters and waitresses in 18th-Century dress, with dishes fit for a king. After midnight, guests take off masks and the dance music shifts to modern tunes.

On Feb. 18 you can attend the Magicians' Ball, which will have more than 200 professional magicians and an equal number of amateur conjurers.

At that event there is always the likelihood that a magician will mosey to your table to perform a trick right under your nose. Held in the Vienna Hilton Hotel, the Magicians' Ball will provide an eye-boggling, two-hour magic show before the dancing festivities start.

Set to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 1989, the Physicians' Ball, which draws doctors and nurses from all around, will be held Jan. 28 at the Hofburg.

The annual Flower Ball on Jan. 13 in City Hall is run by the country's gardeners and takes all honors for lavish decorations because of its profuse floral arrangements.

The calendar also lists the Vienna Coffee Ball (other beverages also served), the Pharmacists' Ball (aspirin provided), the Rudolfina Redoute (at which masked ladies invite the gentlemen to dance), the Oekista Fancy-Dress Ball (mostly for singles), the Nearly Bare Ball (given a high rating by Playboy magazine) and the Venetian Masked Ball (all gondolas checked at the door).

At the three-day Bermuda Triangle Ball, anything goes. It's set for Feb. 5-7 in a section of Old Vienna, in the many cafes, bistros and bars that dot a neighborhood now taken over by Vienna's youth.

During the three days, live bands and combo groups perform. Dress is strictly informal (masks are in order), and everywhere there are hairdressers and makeup stylists to change your appearance from day to day.

Folks who are a bit rusty on the waltz and/or other popular dances can brush up on their footwork at about 20 dancing schools in Vienna that offer lessons by the hour.

Single persons are guaranteed a dance partner to practice with at all schools (lessons are also given in English). For particulars, there's a brochure, "Walzertanzen Lernen in Wien," that is free at schools.

The highest-ranked affair is the Opera Ball. Close behind is the Philharmonic Ball that's held in the Musikverein. This auditorium is considered the most beautiful concert hall in the world and the one with the best acoustics anywhere. The Vienna Philharmonic plays at this major happening, which will take place Jan. 19.

For the first-ever Philharmonic Ball the orchestra will play a stirring "Festfanfare," a piece by Richard Strauss that traditionally is played during events as VIPs make their entrance, take seats of honor on the flower-filled stage and await the entrance of the president of the republic and his wife, who slow-march along regimented rows formed by young couples.

Opera Ball Is Tops

The Opera Ball, one of the most glamorous social affairs in the world, is the highlight of the season. It is scheduled for Feb. 2. More than 1,000 debutantes in white ball gowns and tiaras, flanked by escorts in white tie and tails or military dress, will march out in perfect symmetry and tempo, bow formally to the president and then dance a well-rehearsed polonaise.

A full complement of the State Opera's corps de ballet then whirls out and executes a splendiferous Strauss waltz on a 160-foot-long dance floor, against a backdrop of silk banners, chandeliers and the auditorium's four tiers of flower-bedecked boxes. Afterward, debutantes and partners do another polonaise and gavotte.

Then comes the announcement from the ball director that the crowd of 7,000 waits for: "Everybody dance!"

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