Nuit Blanche 2014

What lived up to the hype, what didn't and the night's pleasant surprises

Although it’s nice to know that some of your pre-event choices live up to the hype, it might be even sweeter to inadvertently discover wonderful things on your wanderings that weren’t on your list. My Nuit Blanche had a little of both, along with some inevitable disappointments.

The art-speak on the Nuit Blanche website describing Alexandre Arachea’s Black Sun video (“a social poetics on the relativity of meaning in our world”) kind of turned me off, but the Cuban artist’s big projection of a wrecking ball high on the side of a building over Spadina actually seemed a very astute comment on the city’s construction boom. With a realistic sound component, it was simple and impressive. And Spadina is a great location for street closure that would be enjoyable to walk even without art. It’s something the city should do more often.

Our cover feature, Lars Jan and Early Morning Opera’s Holoscenes, was appropriately located near Ripley’s Aquarium in Roundhouse Park. The performer I saw was engaged in cleaning the sides of the tank with a squeegee. Maybe the grace of her slo-mo underwater movement overshadowed the message about flooding and climate change, but she was still mesmerizing to watch.

At Nathan Phillips Square I experienced my only lineup, to get into Split Chorale For Viljo Revell. For some reason staff were keeping the rotunda relatively empty. The formally dressed choir produced an impressive drone, but I’m not sure what the message of the central projection of choir members was about.

Up on the podium, a Chinese artist poured black from a watering can onto Bingyi’s painting, at that point primarily in white, illuminated by spooky green light, transforming the green-roofed space into a sort of Ryonaji garden.

Inside council chambers, I awaited Mike Smith’s midnight Threshold performance. Billing himself as an “adviser” to council, Smith alternated between live appearances as the silent Mike, a man in a suit who spent most of his time dithering over items in his pockets, and videos of Mike mostly doing the same. His appearance as diapered, toy-toting Baby Ikki got a few laughs, and videos of the baby made earlier in council chambers with the mayor’s and councillors’ names still on the seats (they were removed on Saturday) threatened some topical satire that never really happened. Given the circus we’ve witnessed at City Hall, Smith had a tough act to follow, and his 40-minute performance was more an exercise in Beckettian futility than comedy.

Though they might work in a gallery, looped videos are not the best way to engage a mass audience outdoors. At Fort York, Sharif Waked’s Chic Point seemed pretty clear to me – a fashion show of men in silly midriff-baring outfits juxtaposed with horrific photos of men humiliated and stripped at gunpoint at Israeli checkpoints. But people around me claimed not to get it and even laughed at a photo of a fat man at the checkpoint. On the other hand, the message about the retrograde nature Cuban politics in Los Carpinteros’s Conga Irreversible – in which black-clad carnival marchers dance backward – may have been clear to the Cubans in the video attending the Havana performance, but for a Canadian audience the music and smiling, backward-moving performers didn’t seem very different from Caribana.

Heading east over Wellington, I stumbled on Cascade, a project that for some reason had failed to pop up on my radar. I’m not sure what the long, narrow, high-ceilinged warehouse is ordinarily used for, but Anandam Dancetheatre made it into a magical space. Ten or more performers climbed, hung and swung from ropes as a delicate light show played over the dim walls to a slow soundtrack. There was no separation between the performers and the audience, who sat against walls or around support pillars or moved among the athletic climbers. It embodied a hallucinatory, dreamlike state perfect for the wee hours of Nuit Blanche.

More photos here.

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