THE collective gasp from the 25,000-strong crowd on the banks of the Brisbane River was as impressive as the beams of light cutting the evening sky above the city.
My mum and I were watching the start of the City of Lights show at South Bank and, along with most people in the heaving crowd, stood mesmerised by the lights above us.
The best of the state's capital is on show during the Brisbane Festival, which runs until September 29.
Earlier that afternoon our friendly Afghanistan-born taxi driver, who touted the city "as the best place to live in the world", had picked us up from the Sofitel Brisbane Hotel and dropped us at South Bank.
We were there to watch some of the major events of the opening night including the light show, which the festival's artistic director Noel Staunton promised would "change how the city looks and feels".
However, to ensure we had plenty of energy for the evening, our first stop was dinner. As the sun set we sat down to a hearty meal at Popolo Italian Kitchen and Bar.
The restaurant, on the bank of the Brisbane River, opened nine months ago and has uninterrupted city and river views.
"We're trying to do something different," general manager Cameron Sinclair said.
"It's about family; Nonna (nanna) cooking for everyone and everyone helping themselves (to each other's dishes)."
We lingered over our dinner as the buildings across the river reflected the final rays of sun, then rushed to the Cultural Forecourt to watch the City of Lights show.
It was a spellbinding display of colour, set to music, which captured the attention of young and old.
A barge in the river was the centrepiece, with water spray used to reflect the light.
At one point red, blue and green lights flickered like flames in the middle of the barge.
Then a blue double helix appeared, stretching and disappearing above the river.
After the light spectacular, we were ushered into the Playhouse to watch the world premiere of Circa's latest production titled "S".
The show was inspired by the sounds and words, like sensuality and savage, associated with the letter.
The show was both amazing and a touch disconcerting.
The strength of the performers who lifted, threw and supported each other during the 1.5-hour spectacle was impressive.
But at some points I had to stop thinking of the performers' bodies.
Some of the violent contortions, which reminded me of scenes from movies about people being exorcised, and some of their feats of flexibility were so unbelievable I thought they might actually snap.
Staunton, in his third year as artistic director, said he hoped the festival had encouraged people to embrace the city's nightlife.
"It has brought the city alive in a very different way," he said.
"It has been a celebration ..."
Circa's performances have finished but the festival continues until September 29.
The Sofitel Brisbane. See sofitel.com/Brisbane for latest room rates
Popolo Italian Kitchen and Bar in South Bank. Starters from $6, mains from $19
The City of Lights show, a free event held every night during the festival
For more information see brisbanefestival.com.au
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