Edinburgh International Festival launch: Enlightened Times - with video interview with EIF director Jonathan Mills
SCOTTISH themes and Scottish talent, from witchcraft to contemporary ballet, took centre stage as the Edinburgh International Festival unveiled its line-up yesterday, though the work of Robert Burns was remarkable by its absence.
The flagship of Edinburgh's festivals kept its international outlook with productions including an explosive Romanian adaptation of Faust, with 110 people performing at a hall near Edinburgh Airport, and a South African puppet theatre company's version of a Monteverdi opera.
The line-up features orchestras from Singapore and Zurich and theatre companies travelling from as far afield as Dublin and New York. Classical performances include a celebration of George Frideric Handel, the 250th anniversary of whose death is celebrated this year. But it is homegrown productions – including a new play by a top Scottish writer and director about the last witch to be executed in this country – which are among the most prominent this year.
They range from new works by Scottish choreographers and Scottish Ballet, to a new adaptation of the 1590 text by the Renaissance Scottish writer Robert Henryson, The Testament of Cresseid.
The 2009 programme is themed on the Enlightenment, using it to look at Scotland and its place in the world. "A visit to Edinburgh in the 18th century brought one to the source of the ideas and inventions that laid the foundations for so much of the modern world," says the festival's artistic director Jonathan Mills, unveiling his third festival programme. "It was a period of extraordinary creativity, technological developments, philosophical provocations and scientific discoveries. It can trace is origins to Scotland and particularly to Edinburgh."
The festival's embrace of the Scottish Government's Homecoming 2009 campaign is also touted by Mike Russell, the culture minister. "I am very struck by the Scottish content of this programme," he says, adding that it shows "firm roots and broad vision".
But while Homecoming is timed to mark the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's national bard will make only a fleeting appearance in the festival, with no major productions on his work or life. His song Scots Wha Hae is promised as part of The Caledonia Sessions, celebrating the musical scene of the 18th century, at the Hub venue. But when programming this year's festival, Mills was loath to see other Scottish writers, such as JM Barrie, lose out had there been too much of a focus on Burns. The avant-garde New York theatre company Mabou Mines, in Edinburgh in 2007 with Dollhouse, returns with a radical new version of Peter Pan.
Meanwhile, the play The Last Witch is based on the story of Janet Horne, the last woman to be executed for witchcraft in Scotland. She was sentenced to death in 1727 by burning after she was accused by friends and neighbours in Dornoch of having a pact with the devil. It is produced by the Traverse Theatre, which has typically hosted some of the strongest line-ups on the Fringe, and is directed by Traverse director Dominic Hill. He won best director in last year's Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland for his production of Peer Gynt.
Other highlights include a new version of St Kilda, Island of the Birdmen, an abseiling opera set around the island's "birdmen" who scaled cliffs for seabirds' eggs, which was a phenomenal success in Scotland and Europe in 2007. Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel, one of the greatest names in opera, singing favourite songs at the Usher Hall, accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau, will be a hot ticket.
The Aberdeen-born choreographer Michael Clark, who has choreographed major works for Ballet Rambert and the Barbican, returns to Scotland for the first time in 20 years with a new production, while Scottish Ballet also has a new show, Petrushka, from Ian Spink. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Scottish National Orchestra, and the BBC Scottish Sym-phony Orchestra also all feature.
The music critic and writer Norman Lebrecht speaks highly of the line-up: "Anybody who succeeds in putting on a festival this year deserves congratulation and support. I cannot fault Jonathan Mills on content."
He singles out the Handel opera Admeto re' di Tessaglia, a production that comes direct to Edinburgh after opening at the International Handel Festival in Germany, but issues a note of caution regarding the festival's secondary theme, Homecoming, claiming it is "a craven act of obeisance by the Edinburgh Festivals to the political agenda".
VISUAL ART/DUNCAN MACMILLAN
THE PLACE of visual art in the Festival, or rather its absence, was always a vexed issue and so when he took over Jonathan Mills introduced visual art to his programme. His first attempt was not a big success, but his plans for this year, called The Enlightenments, are more ambitious, not less. At least nominally, his title pays homage to Edinburgh as city of the Enlightenment. In apparent contradiction of the idea of Enlightenment, faith figures rather largely in the line-up which includes, line-up which includes, for instance – among a number of new commissions – an hour-long film by Tacita Dean, right, on the quiet life of a religious community of nuns. There is a film by Joshua Mosley in which reason meets faith or, as puppets, Jean Jacques Rousseau meets Blaise Pascal. It looks as though Nathan Coley is building yet more cardboard churches for the Dean, too.
Reason has the upper hand in the Reference Room, however, as Joseph Kosuth commemorates Darwin in the room in Edinburgh University where he first contemplated the meaning of fossils. In the same gallery, Lee Mingwei is building stairs to nowhere, evidently in homage to Edinburgh as a city that is both geographically and metaphorically a place of many levels, a place perhaps of both faith and reason.
Steps taken to ensure quality is to the fore
ONCE you get over the disappointment that this year's Festival has only four dance shows, the promise of quality, not quantity, takes over. Director Jonathan Mills says he won't programme dance "for the sake of it", if it doesn't fit into his overall vision. Fair enough – and what he has programmed should keep everyone happy.
"Scotland's achievements" is a theme Mills has running throughout the Festival, so it's fitting that our national ballet company returns for the third time in five years. The changes Ashley Page has brought about at Scottish Ballet surely come under the banner of "remarkable achievements", and the company's Festival triple-bill captures its new diverse spirit perfectly.
Scottish Ballet was absent from the Festival for 20 years until 2005 – and another homecoming is taking place this year in the shape of Michael Clark. He too last appeared at the Festival 20 years ago and, if recent work is anything to go by, his return is most welcome. Aberdeenshire-born, the choreographer has teetered on and off the rails during his career, but his last three creations have been modern dance gems.
The "20" theme continues with the Royal Ballet of Flanders and its dramatic, witty The Return of Ulysses in which Penelope waits two decades for her husband's return. I love the idea of mixing Purcell with Perry Como and Doris Day – and at just 75 minutes, Christian Spuck's choreography must be wonderfully succinct.
The Enlightenment was about having faith in the unknown – a concept repeated here. Half the programme has been bought sight unseen – Clark's new work won't premiere until June and GAC's double-bill opens in April. Yet Mills has faith in them both – so should we.
CLASSICAL & OPERA/KENNETH WALTON
Not so run of the Mills…
AN OPERA programme laden with Handel, Monteverdi and Purcell; an early-evening diet of Bach at Greyfriars; and an eccentric mixed bag of ancient, Romantic and modern at the Usher Hall and Queen's Hall. On the face of it, this is another Jonathan Mills music programme that – despite its Enlighenment theme – is difficult to fathom.
But below the surface are sparks of individuality that might just give this highly personalised programme enough appeal to draw the necessary audiences.
For instance, William Kentridge's radical production of Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses includes a puppet cast and migration to South Africa; Handel's Admeto replaces classical Greece with Japanese samurai in a production transferring fresh from June's Gttingen International Handel Festival; and Bach receives operatic treatment in Actus Tragicus, above, a musical assemblage originally created by the late Herbert Wernicke for Staatsoper Stuttgart. There's a chance, too, to evaluate Lew Bogden's great pan-European project of two years ago, St Kilda, the story of the Hebridean island's amazing birdmen recalled through the interaction of film, acrobats and Gaelic singers. For more conventional tastes, it's a little disappointing to see Hamburg Opera's The Flying Dutchman and Verdi's Macbeth in concert format only, but the casts may just make up the deficit.
Never one for the really big orchestral statement, Mills's Usher Hall programme centres its appeal on personality – solo concerts by singers Bryn Terfel and Willard White combined with the return of John Elliot Gardner and his Monteverdi Choir, Phillippe Herreweghe and the Orchestre des Champs-Elyses in Mendelssohn's Elijah, William Christie's opening night of Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, and a promising finale featuring Mark Elder and his Hall Orchestra in Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius.
Utterly inspired meets the slightly overtired
AT FIRST glance, the theatre programme for the 2009 Edinburgh International Festival looks like a mixture of the utterly inspired and the slightly overtired. Of the Festival's twin themes of Enlightenment and Diaspora, it's the enlightenment strand that seems to inspire the most exciting theatre work this year, from Malthouse Melbourne's Optimism – which reimagines Voltaire's great enlightenment classic, Candide, for suburban Australia – to a first ever solo stage version of Robert Henryson's great Scots classic, The Testament of Cresseid, whose clear-eyed realism about human motives looks forward to the rationalism of the 18th century.
The mighty Enlightenment struggle between reason and superstition also looms large in a new production of Brian Friel's The Faith Healer from the Gate Theatre in Dublin, in a new Rona Munro play The Last Witch – specially commissioned by the EIF and the Traverse to explore the fate of the last woman burned for witchcraft in Scotland – and, most excitingly of all, in the great Romanian Silviu Purcarete's recent version of Faust, above, a huge and thrilling event to be staged in the Lowland Hall at Ingliston. Elsewhere, the theatre programme is perhaps a shade less inspirational, with Mabou Mines's version of Peter Pan, Peter And Wendy, finally arriving in JM Barrie's homeland after a long career on the international Festival circuit, and The Gate piecing out their 80th Birthday Brian Friel season with two well-tried pieces based on Chekhov.
But one particularly striking aspect of the 2009 EIF programme is the extent of crossover between art-forms. Theatre fans will find huge thrills in the opera programme, as well as in dance, music and the visual arts. And there's also likely to be plenty of drama in this year's impressive series of debate on Enlightenment themes; look out for intellectual fireworks, with major conflicts, and thrilling resolutions.
The Last Witch
THIS Traverse Theatre production is a world premiere. Based on the story of the last witch to be burned in Scotland, it has an award-winning writer, Rona Munro, and director, Dominic Hill.
Admeto re' di Tessaglia
Edinburgh Festival Theatre
THE production by the award-winning film-maker Doris Drrie comes to the Edinburgh Festival Theatre direct from the International Handel Festival in Gttingen, Germany, where it will premiere in June.
Michael Clark – New Work
THE Scottish choreographer has built a huge international reputation and his return to the Edinburgh International Festival for the first time in 20 years is hotly anticipated.
Bryn Terfel, with Malcolm Martineau on piano
LANDING the famed Welsh baritone underlines Edinburgh's place as one of the world's foremost music festivals, say the experts.
THIS series of plays by Brian Friel, Ireland's most popular living playwright, includes Faith Healer, The Yalta Game and Afterplay, and are produced by Dublin's Gate Theatre.
Lowland Hall, Ingliston
The EIF is lending an air of mystery to this production from the Radu Stanca' National Theatre of Sibiu, Romania, dubbed "macabre theatre on a grand scale". The classic tale of a man's pact with the devil is performed in Romanian with subtitles, promenade style with pyrotechnics and a 110-strong company. It is billed as an "apocalyptic nightmare" that includes nudity and adult content.
HOW TO BOOK
THE Edinburgh International Festival runs from Friday 14 August to Sunday 6 September. Priority booking for festival patrons and friends began yesterday, while public booking opens on 4 April. Tickets can be booked online at www.eif.co.uk, by telephone at 0131 473 2000, or by post at Hub Tickets, The Hub, Castlehill, Edinburgh EH12NE. Tickets can be bought in person at the Hub tickets office, and for any festival event at the Edinburgh Playhouse and Queen's Hall from 6 April,
and the Edinburgh Festival Theatre from 1 May
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West