La Mercè 2016

La Mercè 2016

'The most daring, accessible, surprising, decentralized, participative and innovative one ever' according to its organizers, Barcelona's biggest annual cultural festival starts this weekend. Here's a - mercèfully brief - guide to the 21 venues, 300-odd acts and special themes of this year's event.

Un signo de fraternidad: Following the terrorist attacks on Paris last year, Barcelona's mayoress Ada Colau contacted her Parisian counterpart Anne Hidalgo to suggest a cultural collaboration for this year's event. Thus La Mercè 2016 will have a Parisian accent. The festival will pay homage to 'la ville lumière' with hundreds of French dancers, street performers and musicians on the schedule.

Pour exemple: 'Des Bâtisses Soeurs aux Villes Éphémères,' an interactive street-art event in which the public will help the artist Olivier Grossetete build a castle out of carton boxes beside the waterfall in Parc de la Ciutadella. That's on Saturday and Sunday. Or the Théatre de la Toupine parading their riotous alpine beast-machines and carousels every day in the very same Ciutadella.

Som Mercè: The slogan of this year's event is a clear reference to cultural fraternity with France in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks. In this case it's also a call to solidarity with womanhood. Not only because, in the words of the official programme notes, 'we live in a time when women enjoy the protagonism that for so long they were denied ( - think Colau and Hidalgo, mayors of their respective cities-) but also because Barcelona is a woman and La Mercè is too.'

La Mercè, lest you forget, is The Merciful Virgin. Who was once credited with banishing a plague of locusts from the city.

The poster for this year's festival continues the girly theme; it's a cartoon-like image of a bob-haired girl ('una dona real, una Barcelonin com les que trobeu cada dia pel carrer') by the artist Miguel Gallardo. The girl is deliberately plain. She's an uber-girl you see on the street a hundred times a day, reinforcing the idea of a festival for and by the common people.

La Calle: As well as celebrating common, everyday femininity and l'esprit parisien, this year's Mercè is also all about la calle. That means street theatre, hip hop and graffiti. For instance, the Mur Transitable, on Passeig de la Circumval.lació, where some of Europe's finest graffiti artists will be showcasing their work on Saturday and Sunday.

Other Highlights this year: Manu Chao doing his customary concert at Parc el Forum on Saturday 24. The La Monfort Théatre offers a spectacular acrobatic spectacle at the Espai Cascada on Friday and Staurday. And on Sunday, big crowds will pack the streets of Cuitat Vella for the iconic, demonic fire-breathing procession known as...

El correfoc: This Mercè staple, 'the fire-run', is a modern version of the medieval Ball de les Diables, ('devil's dance'), which was performed at the feasts of noble Catalan families of yore. The first recorded Ball de les Diables was witnessed at Count Ramon Berenguer IV's wedding feast in 1150. During the dictatorship years, the tradition was largely forgotten, until in the late 70s, liberated from state oppression, it returned.

Exploring new frontiers: This year the festival will also expand beyond its usual frontiers (Forum, Ciutat Vella, Montjuic) to the barios of Sant Andreu and Barò de Viver.

In the latter's Parc de la Trinitat, there'll be break-dance, skating and an entertaining football-dance crossover troupe called Cia Vero Cendoya.

Sant Andreu opens the doors of its old textile factory, Fabra i Coats, now an 'espacio multidisciplinar' offering a technology-based range of shows, including the enjoyable-sounding Pix-Celona Multiplayer Quiz, in which you take along a smartphone and are quizzed on your knowledge of the city.

Elsewhere: Join in a sardana in the gardens of Poble Espanyol's Palaut Albeñìz, witness els gegants (papier maché giants representing the city's historical figures) marching through the streets of Cuitat Vella on Saturday.

And last of all: Get down to Montjuic's fountains for a Prince n' Bowie-themed pyromusical, put on by the same company responsible for Rio's Olympic Games showpiece, for the festival's closing ceremony on Sunday.

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