Festival hopes for another record

A BALLET with no soundtrack is being touted as one of the highlights of next year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

Joe is the signature piece of the late Canadian choreographer Jean-Pierre Perreault. The ‘music’ consists of the thunderous, drumming footfalls of its 32 dancers, but it has achieved cult status since it was first performed 20 years ago.

The EIF unveiled some of the big names set for next year’s Festival yesterday, as new figures underlined how it will struggle to rival the huge success of 2003. The director, Sir Brian McMaster, has the challenge of bettering a record-breaking year when ticket sales increased by 12 per cent.

With a final box office income of 2,628,702, Chekhov’s play The Seagull was the highest selling international festival theatre event of at least the past ten years, with more than 18,000 seats purchased.

Speaking of his hopes for the show Joe and in memory of Perreault, who died in December last year aged 53, Sir Brian said: "Joe was his great popular success and masterpiece. It’s an exciting piece, that will speak very strongly to a wide audience, young and old, so it seemed a good way to launch the dance programme."

With the EIF perennially dogged by charges of elitism, Sir Brian responded, "If you take prejudice away, the programme will speak to anybody".

The effort to keep ticket sales strong will involve a strong line-up of visiting orchestras, largely absent from the programme this year. They include the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra and the Dresden Staatskapelle, with rich traditions, the latter dating back to the 16th century. By contrast the renowned Cleveland State Orchestra made its public debut in 1918.

The line-up includes the actor and playwright Wallace Shawn, a character actor and TV sitcom regular who played the villain in the film The Princess Bride but who is also an award-winning playwright.

While the Scottish-born pianist Steven Osborne is included, there is no evidence of Scottish drama, but a spokesman for the Festival stressed yesterday that it is early days. New Scottish work is often put together later in the year.

The spokesman said. "It doesn’t mean that there won’t be any. It is very much a preliminary list. There is a lot that’s being worked on."

The appearance of France’s pre-eminent contemporary music group, the Ensemble Intercontemporain, will be seen as a major coup for Sir Brian by music enthusiasts.

The Ensemble will play Sur Incises, a 40-minute chamber work by the contemporary French composer Pierre Boulez for three pianos, three harps and three percussionists.

It premiered at the EIF in 1998, and went on to huge success. Boulez will return to conduct the work in Edinburgh for the first time.

There will also be a full stage production of Claude Debussy’s opera Pellas et Mlisande.

Another highlight in the dance programme is a retrospective of the work of Antony Tudor, one of the big names of 20th century choreography.

Sir Brian said he was "incredibly proud" of the Gateway concerts, hit by bad press this year when only 240 people showed up at a performance of Gtterdmmerung by Scottish Opera.

Of more than 3,000 young people of 26 or under who went to the Gateway Weekend, 57 per cent were attending the EIF for the first time, figures showed, and 98 per cent said they would come again.

The EIF also claimed a big pulling power, showing 65 per cent of visitors came to Edinburgh specifically to attend the International Festival.

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