A step towards diversity at Vienna's Opera Ball

Vienna (AFP) –


Vienna's prestigious society ball season reaches its climax on Thursday as thousands of guests gather for the famous Opera Ball, with a Down's Syndrome couple taking part for the first time.

As per tradition, the evening at the glittering Vienna State Opera will be opened with a dance by 150 "debutants", the women in snow-white gowns and the men in white tie and tails.

Shown live on Austrian television with audiences as high as 1.4 million, this year the organisers have given a nod towards diversity with the participation of Swatina Wutha and Felix Roeper.

The pair met at an association promoting equal participation for disabled people in the arts and both say they are excited to play a groundbreaking role in the high point of Vienna's social calendar.

"I've grown up watching the Opera Ball with my family, ever since I was little," Roeper said in an interview with the Kurier newspaper.

"And the waltz is my dream," he went on.

Wutha admitted that she preferred hip-hop dance to ballroom but that nevertheless, "what I'm really looking forward to is when we're standing there and it's really time for it all to start".

As well as Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and President Alexander van der Bellen, the roll call of dignitaries and celebrities at the ball this year will include Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, activist and former model Waris Dirie and American actress Melanie Griffith.

Griffith is the guest of construction magnate and Opera Ball stalwart Richard Lugner, 85, whose previous celebrity invitees have included Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton and Mira Sorvino.