The Greater Kennedy Plaza came alive Saturday as Providence celebrated its first annual Festival: On the Plaza, sponsored by FirstWorks, a company dedicated to promoting Providence's arts scene. Groups from all over the city, country and world sang, danced, painted and acted their way through the night, all the while backlit by WaterFire.
Festival: On the Plaza 2012 has been in the works for over a year, said Kathleen Pletcher, executive artistic director and founder of FirstWorks. While FirstWorks has held smaller versions of the festival in years past, this year was the first held in as well-known and public a space as Kennedy Plaza. Attendees took in art by Rhode Island School of Design students displayed in Burnside Park as various dance troupes and bands performed on stage and nearly a dozen different food trucks filled the air with enticing smells.
Some of the most highly anticipated groups of the night included dance troupe Bandaloop, interdisciplinary musical groups Squonk Opera and Red Baraat, puppet theater group Papermoon, Sumatran martial arts and folk dance group Nan Jombang and the Spanish Harlem Orchestra. Squonk Opera, an innovative music group started outside Pittsburgh, made a memorable entrance to their performance by parading down the street wearing full-on construction worker gear and carrying their instruments before taking to the stage, which was made out of a two-tiered, decked-out flatbed truck.
Both the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a New York-based group dedicated to bringing Latin salsa flavor to its audiences, and Red Baraat, also a New York-based group that blends traditional North Indian rhythm Bhangra with jazz, funk, blues, Latin and pop had the crowd up and on its feet dancing away some of the evening chill.
Sumatran dance group Nan Jombang also drew large crowds as its members performed a story about two lovers expressing themselves through their unique style of martial arts, folk theater and body percussion.
For those who wanted to escape the cold and the music, there were ample opportunities. One of the most popular indoor performances featured a story exploring Indonesian ideas of identity using mixed media puppets.
One of the night's most promoted groups, Bandaloop, drew massive crowds back into the cold later in the night to watch the post-modern dance troupe as they performed routines while suspended from the top of One Financial Plaza. Hanging nearly 300 feet in the air using rock climbing gear, the northern California-based troupe wowed the crowd as they performed excerpts from a larger piece titled "Bound(less)," to an original composition by Dana Leong. Some audience members brought out their yoga mats and lay down to watch the show, as encouraged by the troupe. "We wanted to transform how people view dance and architecture and bring to them a new sense of the Providence city skyline," said Amelia Rudolph, founder and artistic director of Bandaloop.
Nearly every performance was packed, and Greater Kennedy Plaza was transformed from a commercial and transportation center to a hub of artistic talent.
"I hope that people really had an experience of the arts at this festival that went beyond the audience-artist barrier and allowed them to experience this festival using all the senses," Pletcher said.