VIENNA – Cross-dressers, half-naked revelers, a famed fashion designer, entertainment icons and a former U.S. president shared the spotlight in the Austrian capital for the Life Ball, a night of hedonistic revelry for a good cause: the funding of AIDS research.
As in past years, Vienna’s city hall and the huge square in front of it was transformed into a magical stage, this year with the theme being “Tales of 1,001 Nights.”
Turbaned genies jostled sensuous harem queens, Persian princes and others clad in everything between. Others dressed – or undressed – to the beat of their own drum. A man in his 70s wore feathery angel’s wings and white platform boots that disappeared in the folds of his oversized trench coat. Still others sported tuxes or tails. Jeans or cutoffs were verboten – and style police were present to enforce the dress code.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton was among the more than a dozen prominent guests that included singers Fergie and Elton John, actress Melanie Griffith and designer Roberto Cavalli.
Thanking the show’s organizers, Clinton urged the world to get involved in the anti-AIDS fight, declaring that those who want to help “do not have to be scientists, they do not have to be doctors; they have to be people who care.”
With temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, there was less bare skin then in past years on the square. Some men and women went topless nonetheless, in anticipation of steamier times at the all-night party in the neo-Gothic city hall. DJs and live bands were set up in dozens of rooms, along with buffet tables groaning with finger food and bars offering alcoholic beverages of all descriptions.
“Cold? Not really,” said a young man whose naked upper body was dyed blue and who identified himself only as Gert. “The body paint is keeping me warm.”
Eser Zade, mascaraed and clad in a fantastic outfit of white sequined tights, a flowing blue cape lined with fake ermine and a tall crown displaying faux pearls, was visibly proud of the attention he was getting.
“I designed it myself and had my tailor make it in Turkey,” he said.
The show on the square befitted the occasion, with orchestras and disc jockeys serving up a musical menu that spanned the range from Mozart to Disney – all of course with a fairy-tale Middle Eastern theme. Ballet skits alternated with gyrating disco dancers.
As thousands of spectators pressed against mesh wire barriers separating them from the paying guests, a light show of pulsating purples and reds transformed the venue into a super-dimensional Fantasyland.
Proceeds go to help national and international AIDS projects. Last year’s Life Ball raised more than $2.6 million.