This year is different. It is 70 years since the beginning of the Edinburgh International Festival and Bloom spectacularly marks that celebration and officially opens the festival. This public art work, produced once again by Tony Award-winning company, 59 Productions, uses St Andrew’s Square as its backdrop. Tickets for the event are free, though entry to the cordoned off area is possible without a ticket after 10.30pm. Crowds, visitors and locals alike, gather in their hundreds, despite the rain, in the closed off area of George Street and flow in quiet formation, guided by security staff and police, to St. Andrew’s Square and wait, in anticipation.
Who knows what Lord Henry Dundas would think, towering high on top of his fluted column, surveying this breathtaking sound and light installation? The celebrations begin at 10pm and the show, which lasts for twenty minutes, runs on a loop until midnight on Fri 4 and Sat 5 August. The first images to be thrown onto the iconic Melville Monument and the beautiful Georgian buildings surrounding the Square are in black and white. The narrative begins before 1947, the first year of the festival, and conveys images of the Eiffel Tower, then zooms out to depict the destruction of the whole of Europe as a result of the Second World War. The festival itself was the idea of Rudolph Bing, an Austrian Jew who had fled the Nazis. Two years after the devastation of war, the festival opened: “a platform for the flowering of the human spirit,” in the words of Sir John Falconer, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and the International Festival’s first Chair. Hence, this year’s title and theme: Bloom.
The ensuing images and sound take the audience through to the present day, highlighting significant moments relevant to the festival and the city while continuing to return to the theme of Bloom by projecting images of vibrant and colourful flowers onto the architectural landscape around. Highlights are trains rushing to Edinburgh, full of visitors and performers, with colourful, almost cartoon-like pictures of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge and the sound of trains hurtling along the tracks. A wonderful depiction of the Royal Military Tattoo transports audiences to the Castle Esplanade, accompanied by the sound of the pipes and drums, as marching soldiers and a kaleidoscope of drummers drumming adorn the walls surrounding the audience. The colours and moving images are mesmerizing; the audience awestruck as the story is conveyed in the twenty minute show. But it is not simply the history that the audience leaves with, but the resilience of the human spirit. It is a testament to Edinburgh that this flower continues to bloom, 70 years on. It is also a reminder of the strength of the arts and the joy they bring and how they allow nations to prosper. This is evident as police with firearms patrol the Square, and Edinburgh experiences the tightest of security measures to date as a result of increased terrorist threat. Despite this, the festival blooms like never before and the human spirit not only continues but “flowers” and this celebration marks it beautifully.