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Encore... Mons continues its Capital of Culture celebrations into 2018

04:00 26/12/2017
The Grand Huit returns for a year-long encore performance celebrating the people and places that make Greater Mons

In 2015 Mons shone as European Capital of Culture. For an entire year the Montois strutted their stuff, putting on spectacles, exhibitions, concerts and parties in cultural institutions and public spaces alike. One of the biggest hits of Mons2015 was the Grand Huit, a free, itinerant folk festival brimming with community warmth, family fun and culture of all stripes, from folklore to pop to fine art.

Now, in 2018, the Grand Huit returns for a year-long encore performance celebrating the people and places that make Greater Mons.

In keeping with the rootsy vibe of the original concept, the Grand Huit follows the rhythm of the seasons. This second edition kicked off in September 2017 with a grand late-summer garden party in Greater Mons’ southwestern fringe. Yes, another one of the Grand Huit’s signatures is its emphasis on the area’s diverse communes in addition to its historic city centre.

By the time all is said and done in September 2018, the Grand Huit will not just have guided us through an entire annual cycle of hibernation and rebirth, it will have also showcased all 19 Montois communes. Each will get the chance to show Belgium and Europe what it does best. It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort, with local government, cultural institutions, community organisations, artisans, agricultural producers and residents are all on board.

The programme unfolds in five geographic clusters, each grouping a handful of neighbouring villages. The inaugural event, L’Éclosion, spanned the bucolic villages of Cuesmes, Hyon, Ciply and Mesvin. The area’s deep-rooted equestrian tradition was centre stage with horse shows and pony rides galore.

But there was much more besides. Visitors enjoyed local food and drink, arts and crafts workshops, falconry, dance lessons, poetry slams, sports, live music and street theatre, not to mention a Van Gogh-themed tour of Cuesmes (pictured), a village that the famed 19th-century Dutch painter once called home.

The Grand Huit’s second stage, L’Arbre, unfolded in October and found autumn in full swing in the leafy north-eastern villages of Saint-Denis, Obourg and Havré. Much of the weekend was devoted to that most mysterious of seasons. The changing foliage was accompanied by fairy tales, folklore, wooden sculptures and autumnal light shows.

The remainder of the Grand Huit lies ahead in 2018. The villages of Spiennes, Harveng, Harmignies, Villers-Saint-Ghislain, Saint-Symphorien and Nouvelles – all clustered on Greater Mons’ south-eastern fringe – are set to celebrate spring with Flower Power (27 April-2 May) while the north-western villages of Nimy, Maisières and Ghlin herald the end of the rains with L’Arc en Ciel (1820 May). Summertime brings Le Soleil (8-10 June) to Jemappes and Flénu.

The grand finale will take place in the autumn of 2018, in the context of the second anniversary of Mons2015. Details haven’t yet been announced but expect a block party for the record books.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the Grand Huit also has an official partner artist who will accompany, entertain, instruct and document throughout. French folk artist François Andes, who performed at the climax of the inaugural event and exhibited a Grand Huit retrospective at Mons’ Maison Folie in 2016, was a natural for the job. Andes will be present at every stage of the year-long event.

The Grand Huit is only the first element in a new initiative aimed at following up the success of Mons2015. If all goes to plan, the newly minted Mons2025 foundation will keep putting the culture in the erstwhile Capital of Culture for years to come.

Written by Georgio Valentino