Kirklees Festival of Light – Review

huddersfield festival of light review

Kirkless Festival of Light


Now in its sixth year, Kirklees Festival of Light might well be Huddersfield’s best kept secret. There was very little in the way of pre-festival hype, nor does there seem to be much post-festival buzz. But for the first few days of December, Huddersfield lit up with a variety of street performance, music, food and art installations. Nate Wisniewski gives his run down of the best – and worst – of the weekend’s entertainment…

Friday night had all the makings of a damp squib: rain had soaked through the Festival of Light and the main act had pulled out at the last minute. But we’d come out in surprisingly large numbers, and were determined to enjoy ourselves. The vibe of the event, and the way families mixed so well with revellers, reminiscent of the early days of the Latitude Festival, pretty much guaranteed the event would be a success. People of Huddersfield: well done.

trapezeHighlight: Retouramont.
The French contemporary dance troupe’s aerial ballet performance was unlike anything I’ve seen before, and a worthy winner of Friday night’s highlight. To a musical score that drifted casually between haunting and jaunty, a solitary dancer, suspended from a bungee rope, moved across the outer wall of the art gallery with a skill that defied her predicament. The projected images, interacting with the space and performer gave the show an urban edge and what was the side of a building became a contemporary, moving stage – a wonderful reimagining of a public space.

“Brings the community together”

Urban Angels added further aerial performance, this time in the Byram Arcade shopping centre. The close proximity of the performance seemed to enhance the sense of danger in the circus duo’s aerial tissu act, as they twisted through silk suspended from the ceiling. Also in Byram Arcade, Hot Potato Syncopaters, a 1920’s inspired ukulele comedy duo had a few tricks up their sleeves, including playing the sword with a violin bow to create a whirling, ephemeral sound. While over at New Street, Mark Mark’s family friendly escapology act used a pantomime style humour to win over the children and adults in the audience.

Best Moment:
The aim of the festival was to bring the community together and the big turn out meant this was achieved. But would people interact? I don’t know if any new exciting projects were developed but I can tell you that a friend and I successfully negotiated a dance-off between two strangers. I don’t know if it means anything, but I doubt we’d have got away with it on a normal Friday night in Huddersfield.

Biggest Blunder:
Undoubtedly, Friday’s biggest blunder goes to the headline act. As Grupo Puja! drew close to starting, we received news over the loudspeaker that ‘a crucial piece of equipment has been left in Holland. Tonight’s show is cancelled.’ The missing piece? The huge ball frame on which the entire show was based. They’d hired a private jet to fly it out over but neglected to check if it would fit through the doors of the jet. It wouldn’t. Instead of performing, it spent its Friday night in the back of a lorry, hurling across Europe in time for the Saturday performance. Nice.

“A great spectacle”

Anything Friday can do, Saturday can do better, as the rain threatened to wash out the proceedings. It waned about halfway through the headline act, but by that time we were all freezing, soaked through, yet accepting of the head cold that would ruin the first half of the following week. But it was worth the weather, with more on offer than Friday night. A vintage fair during the day, art market and an open-mic poetry evening in Blue Rooms gave Saturday a more bohemian feel.

After making it across Europe, people lift and move the ball central to Grupo Puja’s act across St. George’s square on a crane, while eight daredevil dancers move around it, throw polystyrene balls and balloons and bungee jump.

It was all a bit otherworldly, as though some alien life had landed and was engaging us in its friendship ritual. I am not quite sure how it makes me feel, but it is a great spectacle and the live music accompaniment, with its blend of prog rock and world music creates a mood that fits perfectly with the event.

The powerful female lead vocals added a shine to a great performance; think Pink Floyd’s ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’, for both vocal and feel.

“A Bohemian hangout”

The live music on Saturday night produced some interesting bands. Particular highlights included headliners Extra Curricular, whose funky, tight hip-hop won over crowds, and Sons of Mischief, whose psychedelic forays and looped guitar experimentation took their songs in unexpected and delightful directions. The open-mic spoken word poetry evening, Howl, in Byram Arcade’s Blue Rooms, gave a welcome respite from the rain. More than that, a variety of performers, including hip-hop, poetry, story readings and a blues band, transformed the café into a Bohemian hangout.

Best Moment:
Watching Grupo Puja in the rain with a friend: ‘Council’s got a bigger budget this year, you know.” “I can tell…”

festival of light huddersfield

Worst Moment:
As any street performer can tell you, you win some, you lose some. And when Mike Hancock finished his early performance to an unresponsive audience he knew this time, it wasn’t a win. But when a child no older than six stepped forward from the crowd, I had hoped that a show of affection, an offer of a sweet or a hug, might have offered Mike some consolation. Instead, the child threw his crisp packet at him, then ran back to his family, who didn’t seem bothered in the slightest.

Tough crowd. Ah well, there’s always next year…

pictures: John Woods


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