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Bright lights in the Big City: The return of Light Night

By Thomas Boyd

For two nights in the centre of Leeds, the 15th annual arts festival Light Night returned to illuminate the dark Autumnal evenings. Designed as a celebration of art and creativity, this year’s events focused around the theme of ‘Mind, Body, and Spirit’ – all of which were sure to be dazzled by the neon spectacles throughout the city. The Light Night began with a visually assaulting street parade that was bright enough to not be obscured by the mass crowds thought to total 80,000 visitors. The crowds, who braved wind and rain, were rewarded with a diverse and eclectic parade which showcased local creative talent.

The parade started with the surprisingly muted glow of a sleeping Mother Nature, although the LED procession that followed was certain to give her a rude awakening. Cartoonish neon visions paraded through the city, held aloft by brave volunteers and mechanical rigor, much to the delight of the many children perched on their parents’ shoulders. The parade comprised a glittery array of neon women, Willy Wonka-esque colourful shapes, and an admittedly jarring bunch of tree people. The music accompaniment of a marching band and large speakers brought a distinctly carnival sound which peppered the already lively and loud visual display.

As with many major electronic projects, technical hitches were not far behind. The festival was due to feature a giant interactive heart outside of town hall that symbolised the beating heart of the city, but this fell victim to the weather conditions and was dismantled for much of the first night. Despite losing its heart, the festival had plenty of spirit thanks to the wide-eyed crowds eager to engage with the festivities. Over at Victoria Gate, giant glowsticks acted as LED seesaws much to the delight of the many children, and to the annoyance of the parents queueing in the rain outside. Not one to miss out on the spectacle, the Trinity Shopping Centre saw aerialist performers make use of the vast open space with a gravity-defying violinist performance from Cirque Bijou.

The second night managed to weather the conditions and the heart installation pulsated to life. The piece illuminated in accordance with the heartbeat of visitors’ hands placed upon a smaller heart, and then played music at a matching rhythm. The inside of town hall also offered further wonder with iridescent and perplexing bubbles suspended from wire rigging in its centre, alongside a popular dance-based interactive light attraction. Further down in the city, 12-foot high neon knights jousted outside of the Royal Armouries in a stunning display of luminous theatricality.

What the Light Night lacked in visual and thematic continuity, it certainly made up for with a fun sense of wonder and wild creative vision. The night brought together great cross-sections of the public from local families, students, and visitors to the city, and provided an undeniably bright spark to punctuate the less than joyful weather.

Image Credit: Leeds City Council