VIENNA At 24, Olga Goreglyad is a veteran of society balls around Europe but her ambition will not be fulfilled until she dances on Thursday night as a debutante at Vienna's Opera Ball - something celebrity guest Kim Kardashian will not be doing.
Almost every social group and profession in Austria, from confectioners to firefighters and pharmacists to refugees, holds its own ball, but the Opera Ball is the most elite, with a presidential opening and top-class music and ballet.
"It's an event where the opera can present itself. It's an important platform," opera director Dominique Meyer told Reuters.
But each year, the fine classical performances of the Vienna Philharmonic and State Ballet are overshadowed in the Austrian media by the paid celebrity guests invited by Viennese millionaire mall developer Richard Lugner.
Lugner's past guests have included singer Geri Halliwell and actors Larry Hagman and Pamela Anderson. This year, reality-TV star Kardashian is his main guest.
"Dancing is not my thing," she said at an autograph and question session on Thursday when asked whether she was having waltz lessons. Asked how she kept in shape, she replied: "Armenian genes and squats."
The 144 debutants and debutantes who will open the ball, on the other hand, have spent weeks in intensive rehearsals for a performance that lasts just three or four minutes but has a huge audience on television at home and abroad.
PROTESTS AND HIGH PRICES
"I'm actually addicted to dancing," said debutante Goreglyad, who works as a commercial producer in Moscow.
"I figured it was about time to stop being a debutante, but where to stop? It had to be the highest point, the Opera Ball," she told Reuters during a get-together at a vineyard in the Vienna Woods.
The tradition so admired by viewers from afar is not universally appreciated in Vienna. In past years, it has attracted large protests against its perceived decadence, as well as against some of the guests.
But much of the protesters' attention has switched to the so-called Academics' Ball organised by the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe). Opera Ball organiser Desiree Treichl-Stuergkh said she had hired some former Opera Ball protesters as DJs as part of a careful modernisation.
Treichl-Stuergkh said she was careful to maintain traditions treasured by guests able to afford prices that range from 250 euros ($340) for a regular ticket to 1,850 euros for a box - and that's before even a single glass of champagne.
She said the event was still a rite of passage for modern debutantes, even if it is no longer the formal entree into society it once was.
"Today a young girl of 18 has done almost everything," she said, "apart from opening the Opera Ball."
(Additional reporting by Derek Brooks; Editing by Michael Roddy and Tom Heneghan)