If opening night is anything to go by, audiences at this year's Harcourts Hawke's Bay Arts Festival can expect to be surprised, thrilled, moved and thoroughly entertained.

The Village Green in Havelock North has been transformed into the hub of the festival with the Spiegeltent at its centre.

On Monday night guests and sponsors gathered to witness a ribbon cutting by Hastings Deputy mayor Tania Kerr and Harcourts managing director Kaine Wilson.

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I was expecting a few speeches, bubbles and food.

I should have know better - after all the people that run this festival know how to entertain.

As people gathered in front of the "tepees" I noticed a woman in white ascending a huge tree by rope.

She disappeared into the foliage, I knew then that something spectacular was about to happen.

And sure enough a few minutes later music started playing and the "tree fairy" started to dance.

Choreographer and dancer Chloe Loftus had me absolutely spellbound and she twirled and twisted in mid air and daintily stepped from branch to trunk.

She was spectacular, not the kind of thing you see every day that's for sure.

After the formalities (ribbon cutting and speeches) there was another treat in store. Award winning singer and actress Ali Harper belted out a couple of songs in her amazing voice.

Her show, Songs for Noodles, was the first show of the festival and was a sell out.
After listening to her sing I'm not surprised.

The line-up for this year's fourth festival is just brilliant. Hawke's Bay is so lucky to have this festival with all the incredible performers right on its doorstep.

Of course like any other event such as this there are more people behind the scenes than on stage working their butts off to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Festival director Pitsch Leiser was quick to thank those people on Monday evening along with the sponsors — without their support there wouldn't be a festival. I'm not going to name them all here, they know who they are and they also know what a difference their help makes to our community.

For me Pitsch is the face of this these festivals. He is so passionate about bringing the arts to the Bay and this year has especially focused on not only getting children to shows and growing future audiences but making shows available to everyone.

One of things made possible by the sponsors is the incredible free showing of Pango/Black at the Napier Municipal Theatre on Saturday night at 6pm. You do have book a seat but it's free — wow. I spoke to the show's director Moss Patterson who is really excited to be opening the Pango/Black's North Island tour with a free show.

"This show features six of New Zealand's best male contemporary dancers in a modern house bringing back to live ancient prayers and stories from the beginning of the universe through light," Patterson said.

"It's emotive as the dancers explore love, death and letting go. It's a traditional story told in a contemporary way. There is some spoken work along with a haka."

This show sounds fantastic and the fact that it's free makes it accessible to people that may not have otherwise have had the means to see it.

I think it's a great idea. Going to a live show is a great experience. It's exciting, surprising and for some people who attend this show it may be the very first time they have been inside the Napier Municipal Theatre.

What a wonderful treat. I think if you want to go you better be quick and book some seats.

It's a busy time in the Bay at the moment. Lots to do — we are so lucky.

*Linda Hall is assistant editor of Hawke's Bay Today