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Festival Fifty: Five Biggest Hits

From pyrotechnics to pendulums, some events at Brighton Festivals past have attracted audiences tens of thousands strong. Here are a few of the biggest hits from recent times – how many of them did you see?

Joueurs de Lumnieres, Groupe F, 2006

Some 70,000 people descended on Preston Park for the ultimate pyrotechnic show as the French company pushed the boundaries of your typical firework display to create an event that told a theatrical story. Led by flame master Christophe Berthonneau – the man behind the Millennium fireworks in Paris and both the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Olympics in Greece – it set the Sussex sky on fire. Zap Art’s Dave Reeves, who programmed the piece as part of 2006’s Streets of Brighton, explained ‘one minute you are watching something lyrical and delicate; the next you're shell-shocked by the sound of eight tons of explosives being detonated. It feels as if the sky is caving in on you.’

41 Places, William Shaw, 2007

Writer Shaw’s bold vision was to take true life onto the streets – literally – as the stories of the people who live, work and play in Brighton were printed on everything from paving stones to brick walls to create a giant work of art across the city. Each story was installed in the place where they happened – with audiences free to stumble across this treasure hunt of stories or navigate their way around the city via a specially produced map. Designed by Richard Wolfstrome – a Sussex-based graphic designer who went on to win an award from the International Society of Typographic Designers for piece - the site-specific publishing project was explored and interacted with by a huge 190,000 people during May.

41 Places. Photo credit: Matthew Andrews

Before I Sleep, dreamthinkspeak, 2010

Inspired by Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival associate company dreamthinkspeak led by Artistic Director Tristan Sharps took over the former Co-operative department store on London Road for this special site-specific promenade experience. Blending performance, film and installation, audiences were led through numerous spaces inhabited by the key characters in Chekhov’s classic. It broke ticket office records at the time as 21,000 people visited – leading the run to be extended by 9 weeks – and was universally praised by both the local and national press, with The Argus writing ‘it is an unforgettable, amazing experience’. The company’s Brighton Festival follow-up The Rest Is Silence - which took place in an old warehouse in Shoreham in 2012 - was equally well received, leading to weeks of extra performances.

Before I Sleep

Time Passing By, Kaarina Kaikkonen, 2013

The Finnish artist was the talk of the city as her special commission between Brighton Festival and Fabrica saw the city’s Clock Tower bedecked in thousands of colourful shirts for the month. Donated by local residents and then given to Oxfam following the exhibition, the piece – presented in tandem with The Blue Route inside Fabrica – was seen by hundreds of thousands given the installation’s prominent position in town. As Kaikkonen said to The Argus, ‘I wanted to give my art for everybody in a way. I wanted to face those people who never go to art galleries. I wanted to go to the street. It is quite a challenge to meet all these people who sometimes hate art.’

Time Passing By

Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, No.2, William Forsyth, 2014

This large-scale choreographic installation featured 400 swinging pendulums hanging from an automated rig on the ceiling of Circus Street Market. Visitors were encouraged to dodge between them to create their own unique and often intricate dances and moves. Some 12,500 people took part across three weeks; the acclaimed choreographer himself was even spotted taking part ahead of an intimate Q&A event with that year’s Guest Director Hofesh Shechter. It’s success stretched to the virtual world too; a video documenting the installation of the piece shot by Brighton-based company Shy Camera had over 90,000 views whilst Instagram tweeted shots of the piece to over 1m followers.

Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, No.2. Photo credit: Heidi Kuisma