If it’s five weeks now until the start of the Edinburgh Fringe, that means it’s just six weeks until the latest edition of the Edinburgh International Festival gets under way, the city’s magnificent programmed arts festival that presents an array of theatre, dance, opera and classical music – and a few other surprises – in many of the Scottish capital’s premiere theatres and concert halls (and, in one case, on Arthur’s Seat).
As always, performers from all over the world will be invited to Edinburgh to be part of this year’s International Festival, alongside some of Scotland and the UK’s finest companies.
A number of this year’s EIF offerings also feature in the programme of the London 2012 Festival, the mass of cultural happenings being promoted by the organisers of this year’s Olympic Games. This includes three grand shows at the Royal Highland Centre, and a number of productions featuring in London 2012’s World Shakespeare Festival. EIF is also utilising the fact that so much international attention will be given to the British Isles this August to host the first ever International Culture Summit. So, an awful lot is going on this year – though we are possibly most excited about a unique new show starring long-term Fringe favourite Camille.
But before all that gets underway, ThreeWeeks caught up with the boss of EIF, Artistic Director Jonathan Mills, to discuss this year’s programme, the Olympic tie-ups, and what exactly will be happening on Arthur’s Seat.
CC: You’ve got another packed and diverse programme this year. Are there any strands people should look out for?
JM: It’s always difficult to pick out strands or individual performances, because I hope that everything in the programme is exciting and has a lot to offer audiences. But we are presenting some of the world’s most talented young artists this year. The Juilliard Dance School from New York make their first appearances in the UK. Russian director Dmitry Krymov brings his young company to Edinburgh as part of a rich Russian co-production performing his very particular take on Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. And then we have the dazzling talent of pianists Daniil Trifonov and Francesco Piemontesi, as well as a wonderful line up of violinists in some of the genre’s most beautiful and moving violin concertos, including Scotland’s own Nicola Benedetti making her Festival debut, Viviane Hagner from Germany and Alina Pogostkina from Russia.
CC: There seems to be a particularly strong representation of British companies and performers in the opera programme this year. Was that deliberate, or did it simply turn out that way?
JM: Opera in the UK is a diverse and rich scene, and I was keen to reflect on that and celebrate it. So we have Opera North completing their Janacek journey with a stylish new production of ‘Makropulos Case’. The Sixteen, from London, bring us another Purcell opera beautifully sung, Welsh National Opera bring ‘Tristan Und Isolde’ with Wagnerian star Ben Heppner, and Scottish Opera bring us the culmination of their innovative 5:15 series. This recent initiative has been a tremendous success, and in their 50th anniversary season, to be premiering brand new operas by composers including Stuart MacRae, Craig Armstrong and Huw Watkins, is a great privilege.
CC: The Edinburgh Fringe is renowned for turning non-traditional spaces into theatres, and it’s great when the EIF does this too. You’re using the Royal Highland Centre as a space again this year – what motivated that?
JM: We first used the Royal Highland Centre back in the 90s with ‘Julius Cesar’, and then much more recently in 2009 with a vast production of ‘Faust’, which is still talked about today. It’s a very adaptable and massive space, and that’s exactly what we needed once we’d decided which productions, directors and companies we wanted to feature in this year’s theatre programme.
‘2008: Macbeth’ involves a huge set, almost a house, and would be impossible to fit into any conventional theatre space. Ariane Mnouchkine’s work was last staged 20 years ago in the UK and it too requires a complex and adaptable stage. And Christoph Marthaler’s hilarious and charming ‘Meine Faire Dame – Ein Sprachlabor’ benefits from a tailor made theatre. So, these three productions all sit together well in this newly created space. They are all fabulous productions and I urge you to go and see them, and to experience this great new performance studio for yourself.
CC: And then, of course, there’s Arthur’s Seat – the location for the vast ‘Speed Of Light’ project with NVA. Tell us about that.
JM: NVA and Angus Farquhar have been creating huge outdoor public art works for a number of years in magical and remote places. This year we are presenting a brand new work they are creating on Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh’s city centre mountain. The views from the top are already incredible, but add to that an exploration of endurance sport meeting art and science, and I think we have the potential to experience something unique and inspiring. There are already thousands of runners recruited to wear light suits and traverse the mountain. Now the opportunity is open to audiences to take part, to carry a light staff up the mountain and form part of the spectacle, as well as seeing the runners creating this work from above with the city’s lights twinkling and the castle lit up and visible over the crags in the background. It’s vast and quite special.
CC: There’s a tie up with the London 2012 Festival this year, which is staging cultural events around the UK in the run up and during the Olympics. Tell us about that partnership, and the productions that are involved.
JM: It’s an important partnership for the Festival because it presents us with an opportunity to reach new audiences, to promote the Festival to international media whose interest in the UK is greater this year because of this huge sporting event, and to play a part in the UK-wide celebrations. All three of the works at the Royal Highland Centre that I mentioned form part of our contribution to the London 2012 Festival, as do our Shakespearean works and Romanian director Silviu Purcarete’s new production, based on Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’.
CC: You mentioned the Shakespeare programme, and the various productions you are staging as part of London 2012’s World Shakespeare Festival. How have you ensured your Shakespearean strand lives up to the EIF’s reputation for innovation?
JM: Shakespeare always has a lot to offer and continues to be an inspiration to artists from around the world. We were keen to work with and be part of the World Shakespeare Festival, and featuring a Russian take on ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and a Polish production of ‘Macbeth’ set in the Middle East allows us to enjoy international perspectives on British works. This is not a wholly new journey, last year we presented a version of ‘King Lear’ from Taiwan and ‘The Tempest’ from Korea, not to mention a Peking Opera version of ‘Hamlet’. This year we are also presenting Camille O’Sullivan and Fergal Murray’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s poem ‘The Rape of Lucrece’, drawing on the influences of Bob Dylan and Nick Cave as writers of modern ballads with Shakespeare’s wonderful poetic story.
CC: Ah, former ThreeWeeks Guest Editor Camille! We love it when long-term Fringe favourites pop up in the EIF programme. How did that collaboration come about?
JM: Having seen her theatrical concert performances at the Fringe, and elsewhere, director Elizabeth Freestone approached Camille about taking on Shakespeare and this poem, and working with the RSC on it. It is a perfect fit and quite a shift in Camille’s work, and we were keen to present that ambition and development by presenting her at the International Festival.
CC: Finally, I notice something called the International Culture Summit appearing in this year’s programme. What is that?
JM: This is the first International Culture Summit. Working in partnership with the British Council and the Scottish and UK Governments we are inviting the culture ministers for around 50 nations to travel to Edinburgh and to join us at the Scottish Parliament to debate and discuss the role of culture in international dialogue, to explore funding models for the arts internationally, and to consider the future of the creative industries. It will be held on 13 and 14 Aug, following on immediately from the closing ceremony of the Games in London.
Edinburgh International Festival 2012 ran from 9 Aug – 2 Sep.
Photo: Mark Hamilton