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Despite rain, Firelight Festival brings light to shorter, darker days of autumn

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
It rained on the Firelight Lantern Festival’s parade Saturday night, but the fun shone on for the fifth annual event inside Picton’s Crystal Palace.

“Rain and lantern parades just don’t mix,” said festival co-founder Krista Dalby. “I wasn’t too upset about it because I knew we had something really special to offer inside the Crystal Palace.”

A colourful community procession of costumed participants with lanterns, light and music usually wends its way along Picton’s Main Street from Benson Park to the Crystal Palace, but heavy rainfall saw organizers welcome about 640 participants directly at the Crystal Palace.

Thanks to countless hours of hard work from an army of volunteers, the true magic of the night was on full show as the glass structure of the beautiful Crystal Palace came to life with illumination and light while persistent rain echoed in the darkness outside.

The Firelight Lantern Festival is about embracing the shorter, darker days of autumn, Dalby said. “It’s about creating the light for ourselves that will sustain us through the winter, and coming together to create that light as a community through the dark months.” Presented by artist collective The Department of Illumination, this year’s Firelight Lantern Festival theme was fire and ice.

Preparations begin in the weeks prior at paper lantern-making workshops held at the County libraries and other locations.

“Over the last four years, a team of local artists has taught more than 1,000 people how to make their own beautiful, handmade lanterns to carry in the annual lantern parade, and this year there were nine community lantern-making workshops taking place around the County,” she said. “The workshops are great fun for adults and kids alike and all are welcome to come out and make a lantern. No experience or special talents are required.”

Lanterns are typically created using tissue paper and bamboo sticks and finished products come in all shapes, sizes, colours and designs – this year venturing beyond the fire and ice theme. Along with square, rectangular and pyramid shapes, lanterns included a hot air balloon, fish, birds, stars and more. For those without one, completed lanterns could be purchased at the festival for $10.

The Crystal Palace was transformed for the evening into zones offering a unique experience, decorated with lights, lanterns, fire and ice projections and animations. Many younsters were entertained with the magic and sparkle of snowflakes and ice images. Interactive overhead projectors fascinated older children who enjoyed creating their own projections.

There were unique light installations to explore and a giant puppet on stilts (aka Milé Murtanovski ) who ambled around the space during the evening of wonderment, light show, music and memories.

A large-scale immersive installation was created by Spark Box Studio co-owners and County artists Chrissy Poitras and partner Kyle Topping who teamed up with Toronto artist Jennie Suddick from Crazy Dames. They created a small maze to walk through filled with ice-themed decorations in the form of projection, light and paper cut in a variety of different ways.

Dahlia Donovan stole the limelight as an adorable ice princess.

“Children loved the interactive environment, and I think it also helped connect adults with their sense of child-like wonder, which is something we always try to do,” said Dalby.

The evening’s musical guests ensured the darkness and the dampness of the night were forgotten, at least for a few hours, bringing the fire element to this year’s theme.

Maracatu Mar Aberto, a high-energy, lively and loud Afro-Brazilian percussion and song troupe from Toronto, kept people moving and dancing with interesting and interactive sets throughout the evening.

Some people came lit up, others dressed up and many carried lanterns – though there was also a lantern parking zone for those who needed a break from lantern holding.

The Monster of Lake on the Mountain shadow puppetry play, narrated by Rick Zimmerman, returned this year by popular demand and transfixed its all-age audience as the tale of the lake monster unfolded.

An outdoor installation in the form of a large projection screen held aloft by helium-filled weather balloons, designed by Kingston artist Don Maynard, was a casualty of the wet weather and had to be cancelled. But Maynard did not disappoint as he welcomed all to the next door Bluebird Building to see an unusual multi-layered installation entitled Swimmers. Cameras were set up at the bottom of a swimming pool and featured volunteer swimmers who appeared randomly doing different activities.

“There’s this moment in the pool where you are shooting people from below and they are not self conscious as they would normally be if you were videotaping somebody,” said Maynard, creative director, who has exhibited his work across North America for the past 25 years. “Typically in this video, we don’t see people’s heads and their faces, we just see their bodies and the way that they position themselves as they are swimming. It is completely unique and different, but interesting in the sense that people are not self conscious that way.”

The video was projected through three transparent screens and passersby could add their own shadows added Maynard, who also wrote the piano piece for the video.

It is was important to festival organizers that “the festival remains accessible to everyone” adopting a pay-what-you-can policy ensuring no one would be left out of the magical celebration of light.


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  1. Emery Niles says:

    The only comment I have is on the music at the event.
    I though it was too loud and not reflective of the event.
    We should have local musicians playing Christmas music or music they have written or performed here in the county. I am sure we could find musicians in Kingston, Belleville or Trenton that we could get to perform at this event.

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