Hello there China - Festival goes Asian

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THE Edinburgh International Festival is to turn its focus on Asian culture next year with a spectacular traditional Chinese opera based on Shakespeare's Hamlet and a Chinese ballet telling a classic Ming dynasty love story compared to Romeo and Juliet.

• A member of the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe in a scene from The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan

Artists from China, India, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam have been invited to the city for August 2011 as part of a strategy to build Asian visitors' interest in the festival in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics.

Two national companies, the Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe and the National Ballet of China, will make their Edinburgh debut.

Among the other highlights announced today are the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra which comes to Edinburgh from South Korea with celebrated conductor Myung-Whun Chung, while Vietnamese choreographer Ea Sola looks at the human cost of war in Drought and Rain.

"This is a virtuous circle where we are all winners," said festival director Jonathan Mills, who was invited to lecture in China this week on festivals and what they bring to mid-sized cities. "The Chinese get the brilliant international exposure that the EIF offers, we get their great performers."

Mr Mills said he does not expect ticket prices to rise. The Scottish Government had indicated the festival would get "standstill" funding, meaning no increase to cover inflation or currency changes but no cuts, while the City of Edinburgh is set to reduce its grant by 3.5 per cent.

"We are not intending to put up ticket prices next year," Mr Mills said. "We are conscious that we need to remain affordable in very serious economic circumstances."

Mr Mills has set several themes for the festival since he took the reins in 2006, from Artists without Borders in 2007 to last year's Oceans Apart exploring new world cultures. The theme for 2011, which will also explore Asian artists' influence on the West, is "Journey to the Far West".

He said: "I believe this is one of the most intense focuses we have ever had on work from Asia." Mr Mills said he was hoping to stage launch events for the festival in Japan, Korea, China and India to draw the widest possible audiences to Edinburgh.

Xiang Xiaowei, assistant director general for external relations at China's Ministry of Culture, said: "The Edinburgh International Festival is a prestigious cultural event. It is also an excellent opportunity for our nation to showcase the best of our artists to the world."

Full details of the festival programme will be announced in March.HIGHLIGHTS:

The glamour and spectacle of traditional Peking Opera are in evidence in Shanghai Peking Opera Troupe's East-meets-West adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan is set in the fictitious Realm of the Red City.

The National Ballet of China will perform Peony Pavilion. At the heart of this stunning production is one of China's most famous classical love stories. With music by acclaimed composer Guo Wenjing, costumes by Academy Award winning designer Emi Wada and the dancers of the National Ballet of China, this is Chinese choreographer Fei Bo's first full-length work.

Conductor Myung-Whun Chung brings the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra to the Festival for the first time. Appointed the first Honorary Cultural Ambassador for South Korea his international profile has boosted the orchestra's global presence.

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