Winnipeg’s Nuit Blanche back for 1-night-only engagement — as it’s meant to be

Winnipeg’s annual all-night free arts festival is back with more — and less.

Nuit Blanche 2022 will have more interactive installations and performances than it has ever presented, spread out in the Exchange District, downtown, The Forks and St. Boniface, with trolleys offering free rides between those zones throughout Saturday night.

But it’s also moving back to a one-night-only event from a month-long one in 2020 and 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted organizers to scrub all live events two years ago, instead offering a few virtual shows for a full month.

The 2021 version returned to being live and outdoors but kept the month-long format in order to avoid large amounts of people gathering close together for a single night.

But a one-night event is what Nuit Blanche — an interplay of language, sound and light — is supposed to be. Though the direct translation is “white night,” the name “Nuit Blanche” in French means “sleepless night” — fitting for an event that runs into the early morning hours.

People walk through a tunnel of light tubes that change colour at The Forks during Nuit Blanche 2019. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Kurt Tittlemier, Nuit Blanche’s project manager, says it feels good to be back.

“We’re very excited to launch this year after two years of kind of a reduced event. We have lots of enthusiasm for this year,” he told CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Friday. 

“We’ve really worked hard this year to put the installations all through downtown, but in good walking distance to each other. So we’re hoping people can kind of park their car and take it all in.”

The idea of Nuit Blanche started in Paris in the 1980s as a celebration of contemporary art. While some of it took place in museums, private and public galleries, and other cultural institutions — all free of charge — other parts of the city were incorporated as performance spaces.

In Winnipeg, exhibits and events take over patios, river paths, parking lots and alleys.

One of the performances in 2021, called Waterline, was a dance projected at The Forks harbour, giving the appearance the dancers were on the surface of the water. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

“It’s something unexpected in that way, and it actually spread around the major centres in the world after it started in France,” Tittlemier said.

Held annually on either the last Saturday of September or first Saturday of October to coincide with Culture Days, Winnipeg’s Nuit Blanche debuted in 2010.

Past attractions have included things like light-up teeter-totters, interactive clouds, glow-in-the-dark yoga classes, ghostly doorways and glow basketball.

Among the array of exhibits this year are a dancing, glowing forest, a giant screen that interacts with people through shape and colour, bicycles suspended in the tree canopy, illuminated bacterial cellulose and a fortune-telling parlour.

A 1970s disco-inspired ​r​oller rink, an illuminated sculpture inspired by mystical floating souls of Japanese folktales, and a sculpture that turns heads into TV screens with distorted visages are also among this year’s installations.

The Cloud was an interactive light sculpture in 2016, created from 6,000 light bulbs. As people pulled the chains to turn of and off the bulbs, it created the image of a lightning storm brewing inside. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

As well, there will also be a “pollination ceremony,” described as a “theatrical spectacle in celebration of the bee” that is part parade, part fertility rite, part nature documentary opera. It features a six-metre queen bee sculpture/puppet as well as several smaller bees and a variety of flowers lit up in LEDs.

Choirs, dance and a projection-based light installation that focuses on mental health are also among the offerings for the event, which begins at 6 p.m. Most performances and exhibitions run until midnight, but there are also some events that run past that into the early morning hours.

New this year is a kid zone, running from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Children’s Museum, with interactive workshops and performers.

“We’re hoping that maybe some families, after the kids play for a while, they can walk on and take in some [of the other] installations that we have,” said Tittlemier.

People walk along a light-up balance beam wall in the Exchange District in 2019. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

More information about this year’s event is available on the event’s website.

A map of venues, public spaces and installations is also available online.

“It’s nice to kind of take a look at the schedule before you go so you can see where you want to go and do a bit of planning,” said Tittlemier.

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