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Taxidermy, meteorites and flashy duds: An evening at Nature Nocturne

By Samantha Everts on January 27, 2013

This past Friday, Ottawans in the know sought out an unusual destination for their  socializing: the Canadian Museum of Nature. See, they didn’t need some cheesy Ben Stiller movie to know that the inaugural Nature Nocturne, their after-hours dance party, was going to be cool.

First conceived of in New York City, Nature Nocturne brought out more than one thousand well-dressed and curious folks who wandered through the museum’s galleries, participating in live art with the Luminartists and rocking the dance floor until midnight. The party — expected to become a monthly occasion at the museum —was a great way to reconnect with your childhood sense of wonder. I mean, come on, drinking and dinosaurs? A match made in heaven.

Frigid artic temperatures drove the most of the crowd — largely 20-and-30-somethings — to buy their tickets in advance online. By 9 p.m., there was a queue curling around the museum, and the event ended up being sold out. Although there were heat lamps, the wait in the cold did get people peeved.

Inside, security was minimal and the glory of the front hall was on display. The castle-like building, built from 1905 to 1910, had been under renovation until 2010, when it officially reopened with a visit from Queen Elizabeth II. The sight had my friend’s inner curator freaking out: stained glass windows, beautiful tiled floors, a giant moose, and somewhere above, a dance floor with the beats pumping loudly.

After dropping off our coats, we wanted to warm up with a drink. And while there were plenty of bars, there were even more people. Unsure which part of the party we should hit up first, we went from room to room, discovering there was a crowd at every bar. It took us about 45 minutes for us to get a drink — and with beer costing $7 and wine and spirits $5, it might be a good idea to go for pre-drinks at a bar before the next Nature Nocturne.

Ultimately, we decided to skip the booze and check out some of the installations: taxidermied grizzly bears and beavers, meteor fragments, even an exhibit on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina complete with found items from the disaster. There were also video art exhibits set up in other wings of the museum.

There was no dress code, but damn, Ottawa, you looked stylish.  Men in suits, women in gorgeous dresses and heels you wouldn’t think would be possible to wear on the city’s icy streets. Plus, the regular mix of hipster attire. Those who showed up would give even the most critical fashionista hope.

As for the music: it spanned the spectrum from 1990s dance-mix classics to Gangnam Style, except the songs were only played in short bursts. No one track was played in full. It was as if the DJ was a distracted kid in a museum filled with dinosaur bones.

The general consensus was that Ottawa needed a party like this. But the organizers just weren’t prepared for how badly it was needed—Twitter was peppered with complaints of the museum being overcrowded and the long lines, both for booze and to get in. The dance floor on the third floor was too small for the crowd, and people wound up dancing on the stairs and in the windows. For the security guards used to watching over grade-school groups, it certainly must have been a sight to behold.

Still, Nature Nocturne was a brilliant marketing ploy in that those who attended and couldn’t see all that they wanted will surely return. (On this writer’s return-to-see list: a special portrait exhibit by Ottawa artist Stephen Hutchings on furious storms.) Let’s hope the overwhelming turnout inspires the organizers to better accommodate the huge crowd that will surely turn up for the next party on Feb. 22.

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