Culture Night Belfast

Jim Meredith plans a route through the myriad free arts events taking place in the Cathedral Quarter on September 19

Now in its sixth year, Culture Night Belfast has for many become the most user-friendly and exciting cultural showcase the city has to offer.

Last year over 42,000 people, young and old, immersed themselves in this diverse, entertaining, sometimes challenging but mostly just plain fun extravaganza in the Cathedral Quarter and beyond.

The initiative has caught on across the country, now also a firm favourite with residents and tourists in Derry~Londonderry and Armagh, for example.

In Belfast, however, there are more than 200 free events taking place over the evening of Friday, September 19, with hundreds of Northern Irish artists, arts organisations, entrepreneurs and businesses having had an input into the line-up of events.

A family-friendly programme, most Culture Night events occur between 4pm and 10pm, though many venues will open earlier and close later. Events aimed specifically at children will finish promptly at 9pm, and it’s worth noting that it is illegal for children to be on licensed premises after 8pm.

So, where to start when recommending highlights of this year’s Culture Night Belfast? It’s impossible to catch everything on offer. Some organised individuals plan their evening in advance and follow a set route, whilst, for others, part of the thrill of the evening is wandering the streets and alleyways and taking in the fun as they stumble upon it.

However you decide to approach the evening, it’s fair to say there is plenty of enjoyment to be had, and a world of choice on offer for dance fans, including Yellow River Daughter from the Naughton Gallery at Queen's taking place in St Anne’s square from 5 – 5.30pm.

A live performance and workshop by fan dancer Wan Ting Wu, this joyful performance describes a Chinese girl playing beside the Yellow River on a bright, sunny day in spring. Watch as the girl transforms herself into the river waves, a butterfly and the beauty of a Chinese spring.

Mixing the aesthetic of traditional Chinese art with contemporary performance, Ting Wu will teach the movements of the dance to participants who will then get the opportunity to show off their new-found skills by engaging in a fan dance themselves.

From China to the Americas, keep an eye out for Discover Argentine Tango, ‘pop up’ dance performances from the Belfast Argentine Tango Society. The dancers will bring the colour, romance, drama, music and a flavour of Buenos Aires to the streets of the Cathedral Quarte throughout the evening.

If swing’s more your thing, make sure you’re at Writers Square for 8pm when Boys v Girls Swing Belfast will lindy hop, triple step and strut their way through a dance off in a flurry of polka dots, petticoats and dapper chap braces. They will also teach the crowd a simple Charleston dance from the 1920s.

If you want to take a breather from dancing head down to the Belfast Telegraph offices on Royal Avenue where Takeover Film Festival, Cinemagic and other Film Hub NI members will be showing films at an open air cinema. Each Hub member will be programming 45 minutes of their favourite films, films you’ve never seen and favourites you’d forgotten. They also promise popcorn!

If you want to get even more comfortable then take yourself off to the Belfast Film Festival’s Beanbag cinema on Donegall Street, where there will be screenings of very funny short films from around the world, including some from Northern Ireland.

Lovers of theatre and the written and spoken word are also spoiled for choice on the night, from poetry readings for children at the Fountain Bar from 5.30 - 7.15pm, to a reading of Tom Murphy’s classic Irish play Conversations on a Homecoming at the Duke of York pub in Commercial Court from 5 - 6pm. The Sunflower Public House on Union Street will also feature a Shot Glass Theatre Showcase, with live shorts taking place both inside and outside the popular pub venue sometime between 5 - 10pm.

For poets of a competitive nature, the Community Arts Partnership hosts Slim Slam, a quickfire poetry slam at Clements Coffee on Rosemary Street. Bring your poems (each must be under one minute long), your wit and our nerve along. The first 15 poets to sign up get a spot to compete to be the CAP and Culture Night Belfast Slim Slampion 2014.

There are far too many music events to do justice to in this preview, but highlights are sure to include the International Spanish Dance Party at the Titanic Pub and Kitchen, Little Donegall Street, where DJ Edgard and friends will give you a little bit of Latin America and Spain through music, a live percussion show, Raggaeton, Brazilian Rhythm and more.

The beating heart of the Cathedral Quarter is, of course, the Black Box on Hill Street, on Culture Night featuring popular local band Pocket Billiards, whose high energy ska stylings will be a huge draw from 8pm. Further up Hill Street at Bill Harris Hairdressing there promises to be a brilliant night of psychedelia and garage rock with Fuzz War, live music and DJ sets throughout the evening.

Around the corner on Gordon Street is the Oh Yeah Music Centre. As a Culture Night special, the venue (open from 6pm) hosts three of the most exciting bands in Belfast at the moment with Rhinos, Cruising and Go Wolf performing live sets.

Of course, there will be a lot of action on in the streets, and the biggest draw is sure to be the Beat Carnival's Urban Ballet, a huge choreographed parade, which leaves Custom house Square at 7.30pm, and will wind its way through the streets from City Hall through Royal Avenue to North Street, to the massive sound of Beat’s 100 drummers and 100-strong street choir and carnival band. Following on their heels will be street performers, lanterns, puppets, floats and a massed guitar band.

The big finalé in Donegall Street begins when a monster performance of Fleetwood Mac's epic track 'Tusk' will take over the road, leading to the front of St Anne's Cathedral and a climactic music and dance Urban Ballet presentation.

For those who want to make a late night of it, a lot of the pubs and clubs in the area will be throwing after parties and events, from The MAC Culture Night After Party with DJ Venue Dupree to Duke Special’s Gramopone Club at the Sunflower Bar, with sounds from the decadent 1920s jazz age, 1930s dance bands and nostalgic tunes from the war years.

For those who fancy a little late night sauce with their culture, then head back to the Black Box for Tease-O-Rama and a late evening of burlesque with the beautiful, amusing Soup Du Jour as well as dancing and music from the resident DJs.

This is, of course, merely a small taste of all that is on offer at Culture Night Belfast, not to mention other Culture Night programmes taking place in Derry~Londonderry, Armagh and elsewhere. In these times of tightened budgets, it's remarkable that so many of our arts organisations manage to particpate in such a large-scale event, offering Northern Irish audiences and tourists a night of free culture they're unlikely to forget.

Visit the Culture Night Belfast website for more information.