A hypnotic week of colourful culture

A PANEL discussion held at the start of the Kilkenny Arts Festival raised the question of whether public arts funding should be maintained in a time of cutbacks to other services – and the 10-day festival did a lot to swing the answer towards ‘Yes’.

A PANEL discussion held at the start of the Kilkenny Arts Festival raised the question of whether public arts funding should be maintained in a time of cutbacks to other services – and the 10-day festival did a lot to swing the answer towards ‘Yes’.

For one thing, the festival brings to Kilkenny a varied mix of performers from all parts of the globe, giving local audiences a chance to experience other cultures and perspectives without leaving the county.

Not many at the moment can afford an excursion to Mongolia, but the Arts Festival offered an opportunity to witness an element of Mongolian culture courtesy of the band Hanggai, who delighted a sold-out crowd in the Set Theatre on Wednesday. Their unique blend of traditional sounds with a drop of country and a shot of metal brought the crowd to their feet and crying out for more.

Likewise the much-hyped Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, who brought their Chicago style with the slick moves and funky grooves to the Ormonde Hotel on Friday night (and to the after-party in Cleere’s).

The festival also gave a platform to artists newer to the scene, such as Gemma Hayes, Agnes Obel and James Vincent McMorrow, and to those whose work has gathered a dedicated following over decades, such as Tobias Wolff and Luka Bloom.

Two poets in the latter category, Paul Muldoon and Michael Longley, treated their audience to a delightful reading in St Canice’s Cathedral on Saturday evening.

Described by Olivia O’Leary in her introduction to their reading as “a festival in itself”, the two poets have been friends for so many years and have given so many readings together, that they easily flowed from one poem to another, each reading a few in turn and then deferring to the other. It was a chance to hear some of their older work, such as Muldoon’s Why Brownlee Left and I Love You But You Love Him, and their own personal favourites such as Longley’s The Linen Industry and Harmonica.

The discussion about public arts funding also raised the issue of whether the money is benefiting all groups in society or just those with more money, but the festival brought street performances for the public to enjoy and a sprinkling of other free shows and talks.

One of them, the dance show ‘Anybody Waitin’?’ in the Set Theatre on Sunday night was a definite hit, complete with energetic moves and even a “fake-tan tent” that saw the dancers and a couple of audience members emerge in floral leotards and tight pink shorts that they won’t forget any time soon.

So in addition to bringing a buzz to Kilkenny and e6 million to the local economy, it brought much to enjoy and much to remember.