Montréal en Lumière, also known as the High Lights Festival, February 16–26, and its all-night cultural event/party Nuit Blanche, February 25, have done the impossible and made February a month to actually look forward to. No matter what the weather, the festival brings out some of the best creative minds in Montreal, Quebec and further afield, with art, light shows, music and world-class performances…
Montréal en Lumière is much like one of Montreal’s many summer festivals, except with a rebellious air, throwing caution to the icy winter wind. Among the musicians jazzing up the scene are Quebecois classic hit maker Luc De Larochellière, Belgium’s Toots Thielemans, Diane Tell, France D’Amour, The Rat Pack, Cirque du Soleil collaborators the Jireh Gospel Choir, Catherine Major, French singer-songwriter Arthur H (swoon), folk-poppy Coeur de pirate and The Barr Brothers.
In dance, things get hot with Tango Pasión, Tradición Flamenca and Canadian Salsa Champions Katia Morales and Victor Contreras and contemporary dance from Danse-Cité. Theatre at the Segal Centre (Scientific Americans) and The Centaur (In Absentia) adds dramatic flair, and performances from Nouveau Théâtre Expérimental, Aussie circus C!RCA, Pigeons International, Jorane and I Musici astonish and delight as part of the festival’s themed evenings in music and performance.
Outdoors, downtown’s Place des Festivals literally lights up. A luminous ferris wheel and ice slide compete for attention with free music shows (Stefie Shock, Jali, Bottine Souriante, Alfa Rococo, Miracle Fortress, The Box, and, on February 25, Bran Van 3000), all lit up by interactive audiovisual video-mapping spectacle À Propos de Stern, created by Geodezik and Marc Leclair – the whole site features lighting created by Marc Tétreault and Jean Laurin. Drop by Place Émilie-Gamelin too for its giant, animated stained-glass window and interactive video projection.
And then there’s Nuit Blanche on February 25, possibly the most fun night in February. The night, organized by many factions of Montreal’s cultural community, brings thousands of people out to play in neighbourhoods across the city: Old Montreal, the Plateau and Mile End, and at the Olympic Park – though arguably the hub of artistic activity is downtown at the Quartier des Spectacles and at Art Souterrain in the expansive underground network of malls and corridors. Most of the almost 200 activities are free, so there’s much to choose wisely from: often it’s best to go through the website or Nuit Blanche guide and see what suits your fancy (plus there’s a handy iPhone/Adroid app, for those of us with app addiction.)
For years, I felt a need to see every art exhibition and installation possible – an impossible task, especially when I also wanted to see shows (and get beer and food of course). The big museums (Fine Arts Museum, Contemporary Art Museum, Canadian Centre for Architecture, McCord) are always fun, as is wherever Pop Montreal sets up, and Art Souterrain is a must, not only because it’s awesomely weird to walk around in malls during closing hours, and not only because it’s warm, but because you never know what arty happenings lurk around the next bend: immersive environments, sound art, photography, painting and sculpture, maybe even a few performance artists to shake things up.
Whatever happens, I always tour the Belgo Building, where many galleries keep their doors open until 3 a.m. and art even fills the hallways (rumours speak of an enchanted forest this time) – plus there’s crowd karaoke this year at Studio 303! Sing it loud, sing it proud, sing it in a crowd. And when all that art gets to be too much, head down the street to Métropolis for free all-night dance party, Club Soda for Karnival V.16 and the SAT for YU WA [le jeu/la paix].
Montréal en Lumière, February 16–26, 2012
Nuit Blanche, February 25, 2012
Photo: Frédérique Ménard-Aubin, Jean-François Leblanc