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Leeds 2023 – ‘The Awakening’ show: Giant mythical figure emerges to proclaim ‘City of Culture’ awake…

Leeds 2023 – ‘The Awakening’ show: Giant mythical figure emerges to proclaim ‘City of Culture’ awake…


Many performers in variety show extravaganza at Headingly Stadium in Leeds…

URGING people to get creative and unleash their sense of culture, the figure head of a man in lights appeared high over the River Aire and Headingly Stadium in Leeds last night.

His mouth opened as a series of dotted lights high above the night sky at the home of rugby league team Leeds Rhinos – and his announcement had been heralded by a special breaking news report from a mock local BBC TV report over something “happening” in the River Aire and interrupting no ordinary show at the stadium.

Corinne Bailey Rae pic: Wisdom Makubile

Leeds 2023, City of Culture, officially opened last night ( Saturday, January 7), with a variety show, entitled ‘The Awakening’. It was the city’s way of responding to it not being able to be part of any European City of Culture bid and is inspired by the idea of “doing it anyway”.

Featuring several of the city’s finest exports in entertainment and sport, it kicked off what is going to be a year of cultural activity in and around the city.

As well as the semi-mythical figure in lights, there were memorable moments throughout the 75-minute show.

Carnival dancers pic: JM Photography

Known as the Giant, the mythical figure also appeared on film in the stadium on the large screen; emerging in digital form, out of the river and towering over the tallest buildings around, was the unmistakeable figure of a man, he said: “I am the sleeping giant Leeds. Woke! Too long asleep, this night I rise.”

The film and the figure of his face appeared over the stadium in dotted lights, came as fireworks closed the show and global pop star and local singer Corinne Bailey Rae brought the finale down with a couple of songs and her own message: “This is day one! Can you imagine what we will be able to do together by the end of the year.”

At one point the stage was filled with 100 dancers; and the cool air and soft rain was lifted by the voices of Opera North and the now classic popular opera track, ‘Nessun dorma’.

Tabla player Inder Goldfinger and The Stone Roses guitarist Aziz Ibrahim, who performed alongside local rapper Graft, were among the backing artistes for prominent musical acts.

Inder Goldfinger on the tabla on the big screen at Headingly Stadium

The show started memorably with Dunstan Bruce, once of 1990s band Chumbawama, leading choir members of the Opera North in a rendition of his band’s chart-topping, ‘Tubthumping’.

Another famous track, ‘I Predict a Riot’ by Leeds-based band Kaiser Chiefs, was played out with 100 dancers on the stage, with some in a colourful carnival costume, and from West Indian communities – in the region – who keep their culture and music alive with a local carnival held in the city over many years.

There was more energy and delight on stage when the next generation of artists, some just nine years old, took to the stage and performed. Known as the Solar Jets, they are child musicians who already have stage presence and can entertain a crowd.

Carnival dancers pic: Tom Joy

Poet Simon Armitage, another native son of the city, performed with his band LYR. He spoke of a rejuvenated city and one that has energy and creativity and won’t take anything – especially adversity – lying down.

That spirit of defiance and courage was memorably marked by black rappers Testament and Denmark Creary, whose ‘L-E-E-D-S’ chorus was both catchy and empowering.

Mobo-winning and TV ‘The Rap Game UK’ winner Graft also lent his talent to the stage.

Bafta TV winner and recent Strictly Dancing participant and CBeebies presenter George Webster, who has Down’s Syndrome appeared with his Dad on stage.

Olympian para-athlete Kadeena Cox persuaded co-presenter and former footballer Leeds Sanchez Payne to mount a bicycle on stage and join other wheels-enabled dancers and performers to ‘dance’ and perform. The other co-host was well-known TV presenter Gabby Logan, who grew up in the City and is Chair of Leeds 2023.

Dunstan Bruce pic: Tom Joy

Last night’s show was directed by Kelly Thiarai and Alan Lane. Thairai is CEO and artistic director of Leeds 2023 and Lane is the artistic director of local based theatre, Slung Low.

The night ended with Bailey Rae, the giant digital figure in lights and fireworks in the stadium and the crowd, numbering around 10,000 left with much look to forward in Leeds 2023.

Armitage told Leeds-based Channel 4’s Darshna Soni that Leeds 2023 was a response to the dashing of hopes of becoming European City of Culture, like Liverpool in 2008.

“I like the idea that people won’t sit down and be quiet,” he said before ‘The Awakening‘ show started.

To get a ticket, people had to submit an artwork – it could be anything from a recipe to a drawing and some 2,000 works were submitted and will go on display throughout the year.

Originally, the city had been gearing up for a bid for the European City of Culture, but since the Brexit vote in 2016 and a new British system of selecting a UK city of culture, it decided to host a year long showcase of cultural and artistic events of it own and funded mainly through the council and some private sponsorship.

It was all pegged loosely around the theme of Letting Culture Loose initially and then more recently has been divided into three sections in a 12-month run which began yesterday. Between now and April, events will take place around the theme of Waking The Artist; May to August will be centred around ‘Playing’; while the final slew of evens and intiatives will be be based around ‘Dreaming’. Thiarai explained the thinking to at an event launching Leeds 2023 and The Awakening’ in September, some 100 days before the show itself. (See here)

Main picture: Light show at end with fireworks at the top and the mythical figure’s face in lights just above stadium roof and fireworks

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The Giant Leeds 2023 mock news report – on mobiles click to Twitter

Channel 4 News report (Darshna Soni)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture