Despite a reduction in tourist numbers, a significant reduction in funding and a very hesitant general climate for events, Kilkenny Arts Festival made many changes to the type of product or production on offer. Gone was the emphasis on headline or international acts with large followings. For example the theatre and dance programme had no big play or production and survived on novelty or fringe type small cast work. The visual arts content was lacklustre and much reduced. While the classical, baroque and world music events were excellent, the literary events marked time a bit.

But the emphasis was on survival with style and Kilkenny did this well. Now that Kilkenny is only a half hour from Waterford it has confirmed itself in Waterford as – the Arts suburb of Waterford – and I mean that kindly. Waterford does not have an event like Kilkenny Arts but does provide arts events across the year in a different and maybe more diverse way. I met lots of Waterford people at the Festival and they stop and say hello and compare events and advice. Kilkenny brings out a friendliness admittedly with a bit of banter about hurling.

Highlight of a very diverse music programme for me was Debashish Bhattacharya the Indian raja player who delights on lap steel guitars. With his brother Bubhasis on Tablas they provided dreams, tradition and a surge of musicality that was only half of a superb evening at St.Canice’s.

The other half was provided by the Mali Kora player (the Kora is a 21 strong instrument). He is as good as Toumani Diabate who features in Dublin annually and he was accompanied by the French cellist Vincent Segal for a programme that reached across world music into classical choices again to the delight of an audience.

The Cardinall’s Music gave us a beautiful vocal treat with work from Tallis and Byrn. The RTE Concert Orchestra served up the best lunch time treat with popular tunes and great fire and gusto.

Visual Art

The visual arts programme was a disappointment for me and even the off-festival work failed to ignite me. Tony Oakey with Out of This World was a notable exception at The Clubhouse. I loved his vivid colours and As Darkness Falls, with its candle for a lighthouse was a gem. There were levels and layers of meaning in the title piece and his Holy Cow was an orange treat.

At Du Pareil …Au Meme the photographic 

and Maeve Doherty did steady business at Butler House.

Literary

Paul Durcan filled the 300 seat Watergate Theatre for a reading that was a performance. When he did the Kilfenora Teaboy, I was transported back to a Kilkenny Festival over twenty-five years ago when Durcan was the hit of the Festival in the Long Gallery at Kilkenny Castle and some people complained that the Teaboy wasn’t poetry.

Michael Coady shared a reading in the Tower Parade with Belfast poet Ciaran Carson. Carson began and closed with tunes on a tin whistle and I almost expected Michael Coady to whip a trombone out of his trousers to compete but he wooed us with his rapt audience with pictures from his native Carrick-on-Suir. What a fine poet Coady is.

Theatre

There was no conventional theatre or dance and the offerings were fringe in nature or of novelty for publicity. Nothing wrong with that and Victor and Gord by Una McKevitt was an amazing introduction of a new playwright to a larger public as she outlined in a very contemporary a series of rites of passage by heightening into drams everyday experiences. McKevitt has a bright future ahead of her.

The novelty show was The Smile Off Your Face by Ontroerend Goed form Belgium where individually audience members were tied and blindfolded in a wheelchair and led into a space of sound and touch. I was taken from the chair and banged against a wall, then laid down on a bed, caressed and whispered to as well as being fed chocolate and that’s as much as any victim/audience member should reveal.

Susan and Darren by Quarantine was an event with dancing where the small audience group fitting on three sides of the actual stage at The Watergate as dancer Darren and his mother Susan described their rooms and lives in a lot, perhaps too mundane detail with dancing. Over the 100 minutes there was a lot of inaudibility due to the layout but two sequences were riveting – one a halting description of a rape and the other where the angular and thin Darren was washed from head to toe in a ritualistic way that was moving and fascinating.

The programme advertised a pre-show dance workshop where it said all levels and ages and experience are welcome. Free to ticket holders but Richard Gregory of The Quarantine (ironic name) refused me entry despite the welcome in the programme. When I returned for the actual show my ticket wasn’t available but wiser heads prevailed and I finally got in.

There was an onstage buffet as part of the show with a warning that it included meat, fish, eggs and nuts. Nuts to that, so I left.