My Leeds Cultural Highlights 2014

Leeds is a place where there is always a lot to see and do. Like London, it’s a very cosmopolitan city but it has the distinct advantage of often being a good deal cheaper! 2014 was a particularly good year for Leeds as it was chosen as the start for the Tour de France. There was also talk of a bid for the 2023 European Capital of Culture.

So here are some personal favourites from the art, music, film and theatre I’ve seen in Leeds this year.

Marlow Moss at Leeds Art Gallery

A stunning display of abstracts from the British Constructivist artist. Leeds Art Gallery is very strong on abstract works, including permanent pieces by the likes of Damien Hirst and Fiona Rae. This show brought to light work by a neglected  female artist in what has often been a very male dominated field. Moss’s mid 20th century paintings and sculptures show a debt to Mondrian but also have their own distinct character. Her use of blocks of red, blue and yellow create a feeling of space and movement that is both optimistic and liberated.  Pure abstraction at its best.

Dracula at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

I’d only seen a couple of ballets prior to this one but all the same it was obvious that David Nixon’s adaption of Bram Stoker’s horror classic for Northern Ballet was something special. The raw physicality of the book, including the famous erotic undercurrents, were fully present from the start as Dracula playfully seduced Jonathan Harker. Music and costumes both struck just the right tone of baroque beauty and decay. The choreography was sensual, at times charged with an intensity verging on insanity – especially the fly munching Renfield suspended above the stage in a cage  – and the tragic twist in the ending was a stroke of genius no film version has attempted.This may just be the best Dracula adaption I’ve ever seen (sorry Bela).

Perfume Genius at the Wardrobe

A intimate live set by Perfume Genius aka Mike Hadreas, including songs from his outstandingly good new album Too Bright. Dark yet tender, melodic and experimental, his music seems to draw on a variety of influences while still feeling fresh. He’s famously anxious about public appearances but his strong live vocal performance suggests he has nothing to worry about. He’s already upset YouTube and rightly called out Eminem for being an asshole, but hopefully he will continue to build an audience for his captivating brand of music.

Sound of Noise at Leeds Town Hall for Leeds International Film Festival

I reviewed this in a previous blog, but really this was a great opportunity to see a fun film about music, fear and freedom -and for free! I think everyone in the audience enjoyed Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjarne Nilsson’s comedy about terrorist musicians wreaking gleeful havoc in operating theatres, banks and power stations.

And so finally on to my single favourite cultural highlight in Leeds this year!

Which was…

Shezad Dawood – Towards the Possible Film at Leeds Art Gallery

Debuting on a particularly strong Light Night – Leeds annual free arts festival – Shezad Dawood’s haunting and beautiful film, accompanied by a collection of painted and sculpted works, is easily  the best example of video art that I’ve seen. Describing an encounter between blue skinned aliens and an indigenous people in a quite stunning Morrocan setting, Towards the Possible Film is Dawood’s exploration of the meeting between the old and the new, the technological and the  mystical. Graced with a highly effective soundtrack and some excellent design work, this is very much a work of art and yet can also be enjoyed as a well made sci-fi short. It’s good to see that the Gallery is using their family oriented Art Space to encourage kids to use the fantastical elements of the film to stimulate their own creativity.

I’ve seen lots of art  I’ve liked this year but Dawood’s I found hypnotic.

So lots of good stuff going on in Leeds this year and hopefully this will continue in 2015. I’m looking forward to finding out what the new year will bring.

Damian

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