At sixty five years old you could forgive the Edinburgh International Festival for seeking the quiet life and coasting along on it’s well founded reputation. But under Festival Director Jonathan Mills pipe and slippers and the comfy chair are not for the EIF instead their 2011 programme is one of the most ambitious, exciting, diverse and energised for many years.
The theme of this years festival is building bridges between Europe and the East and there’s a plethora of wonders from the orient on display in dance, drama and music as well as wonderful fusions of Eastern and Western traditions which show how universal the language of the arts can be.
Beginning on the 12th August with a concert of Robert Schumann’s Persian opera Das Paradies und die Peri followed the next day by The National Ballet of China’s The Peony Pavilion featuring a score by Guo Wenjing referencing Debussy, Holst and Prokofiev, the mixing of cultural streams is clear from the first and it’s underlined with the inclusion of three unique takes, by companies from Taiwan, South Korea and China, of The Tempest, King Lear and and an operatic Hamlet.
As usual there’s a full programme of diverse dance; from Vietnam comes the company Ea Sola looking at the human cost of war with a recreation of Drought and Rain a piece originally performed in 1985. In Re-Triptych Chinese choreographer Shen Wei – the man behind the Bejing Olympics opening ceremony – travels through his own memory, journeying across his life’s cultural geography from Tibet, to Cambodia to the vast land of China itself.
Traditional Aakriti dance, from India is performed by the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble’s Sriyah evoke the mysticism of the temple at the King’s Theatre whilst South Korea’s Eun-Me Ahn Company bring their stunning and witty visual imagination to a mix of traditional and modern dance forms in the folk tale Princess Bari.
Whilst there’s no input this year from the National Theatre of Scotland there’s still plenty of theatrical spectacle on show. Apart from the aforementioned re-imaginings of Shakespeare there’s the world première of director Stephen Earnhart’s Murakami adaptation The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle combining theatre, music, puppetry and film. From the Middle East comes a two part version of One Thousand and One Nights featuring actors musicians and a creative team from across the region giving a vastly different perspective from the daily diet of tragedy and violence on the news.
Opera and classical music have always been at the heart of the festival and this year is no different with, apart from the concert productions of works by Haydn, Jules Massenet and of course the opening night’s Schumann, two rarely performed operas from two of the genre’s biggest names Richard Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten [Woman Without a Shadow] and Rossini’s Semiramide both continuing the eastern theme of the festival.
The classical highlights include the Orchestras from Canada, the US, Germany, South Korea, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, not to mention both the Scotland’s main Orchestra’s. All of this of course complemented by virtuoso performances from soloists, quartets and several piano/vocal duets.
One of the major events in this years festival is the first appearance of grand old man of esoteric composition Philip Glass with the Qatsi trilogy the three movies made in conjunction with Godfrey Reggio showing at the Playhouse with music provided by the Philip Glass Ensemble with Glass himself on keyboards. Clearly an opportunity not to be missed.
Add to all this talks, exhibitions, events and the sheer buzz that electrifies Edinburgh at this time of year and you can understand why expectations are running high for this cross cultural and cross continental event to be more successful than ever.