Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

16 days of culture and fun to reflect city’s colour and verve

With astonishing speed, the calendar has rolled around 12 months and, once again, the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s is upon us. Sixteen days of super quality arts events lie ahead and nobody is more upbeat about the content and potential impact of the programme than director Graeme Farrow.

“I’m delighted with the quality of this year’s festival and with the public’s response,” he said.

“In many ways, this is the first festival that I’ve been able to plan as I would have liked and the opening weekend provides the best evidence of that. Any city on earth would be proud to be hosting tonight’s concert with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra of St Petersburg. It’s the classical music equivalent of U2 coming to town.

“Follow that with tomorrow’s sell-out gala celebration of poets Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley with the Ulster Orchestra and you have one of the best opening weekends in the festival’s history.”

Mr Farrow, his team and their Ulster Bank colleagues have been at pains to make the festival more accessible and reflective of the changing nature of the city. So it’s no accident that the programme contains a wealth of Polish work, a hard-hitting piece of dance theatre about attitudes towards gay people, Indian culture, stories about the history of the Jewish community performed in the Belfast Synagogue, culture for children and lots of free tickets for people who may often feel excluded from the arts.

Musically, tonight is a shining example of what makes a festival a festival. We are spoilt for choice between the mighty Mariinsky Orchestra and its brilliantly flamboyant conductor Maestro Gergiev playing Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in the Waterfront and the Saharan guitar-poets Tinariwen in the Mandela Hall at Queen’s. Click onto You Tube to hear the gorgeous swirling sounds of these superb Touareg musicians, whose haunting songs conjure up the mysterious, exotic landscape of their desert home.

Ponydance was the outstanding hit of the Old Museum’s Pick ’n’ Mix Festival in the summer, winning the award for best performance. This Belfast-based comedy/dance/theatre troupe has

developed its show Bodies, Buns and Boyfriends into a terrific full-length piece, which wowed the Dublin Absolute Fringe Festival last month.

It will hit you smack between the eyes with its naughty mix of dance, physical comedy, mime and madness.

Catch the great show the Old Museum tonight, tomorrow and also on Sunday.

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