70th Festival kicks off with visual spectacular

59 Productions' stunning vision of 'the flowering of the human spirit' opened this year's EIF. Picture: Lesley Martin
59 Productions' stunning vision of 'the flowering of the human spirit' opened this year's EIF. Picture: Lesley Martin
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In the year of EIF’s 70th anniversary, the festival’s opening spectacle took its inspiration from the words of Sir John Falconer, Lord Provost of the city in 1947, who spoke of the first festival as a platform for “the flowering of the human spirit” in the aftermath of the Second World War.

Star rating: ****

Picture: Lesley Martin

Picture: Lesley Martin

Venue: St Andrew Square

In keeping with the floral motif, St Andrew Square and the buildings around it were transformed this year into a constantly changing garden of colour.

The 20-minute looping sound and light projection gave us a whistlestop history of the festival, from the newspaper headlines from the early years (The world comes to Edinburgh!) through a shifting kaleidoscope of patterns and images to 2017.

Nick Powell’s score referenced various styles of music – orchestral, jazz, electronica – and there were nods to some of the city’s other festivals and to the Tattoo, though, interestingly, barely a mention of the Fringe, the EIF’s legendary larger and rowdier neighbour.

Picture: Neil Hanna

Picture: Neil Hanna

59 Productions, the company behind the last two opening events, this time had an immersive canvas on which to play. Images were projected on to buildings on three sides of the square, and on the centre column, while LED-lit poles sparkled throughout the gardens.

The audience was in the midst of the show, unable to stand back and see the whole, but free to move about and continually rewarded by new aspects and perspectives.

Such spectacles are ephemeral. It is easy to say, in the cold light of day, that the budget for an event like this one could support a veritable host of more moderately sized shows. But Edinburgh is home to the greatest arts festival in the world and an opening event on a fittingly spectacular scale lends that idea a visual expression. Bloom gave us a place to focus our pride about what the city has achieved, and goes on achieving every August, in daily spectacles, whether large or small.

Susan Mansfield