22 March, 2012

Festival 2012 Brochure and Trailer

Have a look at our 2012 trailer:

And then leaf through our 2012 interactive brochure:

20 October, 2011

Confessions of a Chorus Member - John Anderton

For over 40 years I have had the privilege of singing in the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and performing with such distinguished soloists as Janet Baker, Placido Domingo, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Luciano Pavarotti, Jessye Norman, Jose Carreras and many others. It is always a great thrill to sing with such distinguished soloists and to have the opportunity of talking with them during breaks in rehearsals.'

My recent experience during the 2011 Edinburgh Festival added a new dimension to this experience. I was enthralled and captivated by Erin Wall at the Thaïs rehearsal in Glasgow and during the performance in the Usher Hall in August 2011.

The chorus had introduced her with...

Thaïs. soeur des Karites         (Thaïs, sister of Karites
Rose d’Alexandrie                  Rose of Alexandria
Belle silencieuse                      Fair and silent
Thaïs, tant désirée                  Thaïs, much desired
Thaïs, Thaïs, Thaïs.                Thaïs, Thaïs, Thaïs) 

Thaïs has decided to ditch poor Nicias and Erin Wall sang her farewell to him with such feeling and purity of sound:

C’est Thaïs, l’idole fragile           (Thaïs, the frail idol
qui vient pour la derière fois       comes for the last time
s’asseoir à la table fleurie.          to sit at your flower strewn table.
Demain, je ne serai pour toi       Tomorrow I shall be for you
plus rien qu’un nom.                   no more than a name.)

This was the first of a number of overwhelming emotional moments in the opera which was an unforgettable experience. Many months or rehearsal had paid off, and what a privilege it was to be on the same stage as Erin Wall, the other soloists, and the RSNO conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

But my encounter with Erin Wall was not over! Encouraged by Lorraine I ventured to her dressing room and waited for her to sign autographs. Erin graciously allowed a photograph of myself with her and no doubt she will use this to further her career on the operatic stage!

As we said ‘goodbye’ I remembered Thaïs’s moving duet with Athanaël:

Baigne d’eau mes mains et mes lèvres     (Bathe my hands and lips with water
donne ces fruits, donne ces fruits             give me this fruit, give me this fruit
Je t’appartiens, ma vie est à toi.              I belong to you, my life is yours)

A night to remember!

If you want to become part of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, come join us at our Open Rehearsal on Tuesday 25 October. For more details see here.

03 September, 2011

Review: Drought and Rain

Photo: Eoin Carey
 What to expect from a performance categorised as ‘dance’ but described by our very own blog as containing “little movement”? Not a lot of dancing is the short answer, but unexpectedly little dancing is required to give Drought and Rain a special and unique impact like no dance performance you’ve seen before.

The opening sequence reveals lifelike and life-sized portraits of Vietnamese soldiers in the half-light. As the lights come up, these three dimensional-looking figures are revealed as nothing more than cardboard cut-outs, supported by the female ‘dancers’ who are impenetrable in their blank yet forceful faces. It is at this point that the breathtaking simplicity of this production is revealed.

The performers are women who, during the war, sang for North Vietnamese soldiers at the front and it is their singing that asks the questions choreographer Ea Sola seeks to pose through Drought and Rain – how do our individual and shared memories process such significant cultural events and what - through time, space and subsequent generations - is the true human cost of war?

What movement there is during the piece is strong, purposeful and delivered with great meaning – a photograph thrust forwards, a heart beating quickly at the sound of gunfire and the dramatic lurching backwards as the fighting takes place around them. Most memorable of all, perhaps, is the letting down of long, dark hair in perfect unison which waves and shakes wildly as the women allow themselves to become consumed by their shared grief.

But it is the bravery with which the production delivers stillness that brings the most visually arresting moments, as though the production is clicking a camera to store images in your brain. The relentless, almost combative stares of the women transform suddenly into the toothy, wide perma-grins they wore to sing to their soldiers and, as movement ceases completely and they stare out into the auditorium, it feels unsettlingly like you are being challenged to a smiling competition you can never win.

While these powerful images are often captivating, the questions they are asking are meditated upon rather than answered. There is no attempt display narrative or linear development and to seek these things would risk rendering the production frustrating rather than strangely soothing.

If Ea Sola’s purpose with Drought and Rain was to create a shared cultural memory in her audience then many of the sequences in the piece are powerful enough to have done so. There is no dancing, it is true, but the movements are delivered with a touching simplicity that is hard to resist.

Drought and Rain

Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 September, 8pm
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Book now at eif.co.uk/drought

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

02 September, 2011

Review: Shen Wei Dance Arts Re- (I, II, III) / The Triptych

Photo: Eoin Carey
By Emma Caldwell
Shen Wei’s Re-Triptych takes the audience on a journey; throughout the course of the three part piece we are taken from snowy-topped Tibetan Himalayas, to a humid Cambodian jungle, finally ending up in a dizzying, digital modern-day China.
Re- (I) opens with the dancers sat in a circle around a huge confetti mandala, the sky backdrop gives the impression they are sat atop a mountain. Tibetan chanting accompanies their movements - the confetti sprays up and covers their bodies like snow-flakes as they swoop and soar like birds. The lights are clear and bright evoking the cool, crisp atmosphere of a winter’s day, and then becoming warm as though the sun is setting. This cycle continues and it feels as though we are witnessing the passing of many days. The pace slows and the lights come down, we have left Tibet.
As the lights come up on Re- (II) we see the dancers in a line, they start to move, seemingly chaotically, but all idiosyncratically connected. The soundtrack of Cambodian folk music soon gives way to the sounds of the jungle and the chirping and squawking of unknown creatures pierces my ears. The dancers’ movements become more synchronised and graceful; one breaks away from the rest of the group and staggers almost drunkenly. A voice speaking in an alien language is heard over the environmental sounds, I cannot understand what it says and I feel a sense of unease.
As the already low lights dim further, a naked body enters the stage. The background is now a withered tree root and the contorted figure glistens in the light mimicking this image and writhing and twisting. The dancer takes centre stage and rests in a bright white spotlight. String music fills the auditorium and lifts our spirits. More naked dancers appear and it is both a celebration and an exploration of the human form. The sight is arresting and beautiful, but also unsettling – the dancers’ faces are obscured by shadows and it is hard to tell where one body ends and another begins. The piece ends as the dancers slow to a stop, four spotlights bathe four bodies in blue light and a deep note rings out. The theatre feels dark and eerie, I feel unsettled.
The third and final part, Re- (III), turned out to be the most enjoyable for me. This piece attempts to explore China’s vast and rich cultural history, whilst looking forward to the place it holds in the digital age. It starts with the dancers marching back and forth across the stage, their feet pounding out a satisfying rhythm. As in the previous part a dancer breaks away from the group and gracefully sways and lurches to quirky string sounds.
The music, by Pulitzer Prizewinner David Lang, is both discordant and rhythmic, exploding with ever more complexity as the piece progresses. The pace slows then quickens up again, the dancers are now dressed in what looks like 80s workout gear - I like it! They are all seemingly dancing to their own song, electronic sounds are introduced to the music and the Playhouse feels alive with the energy on stage. The dancers contort themselves into one final shape as the music fades into the sound of a train moving along the tracks. This ending is poignant, Shen Wei has taken us on a journey, but it has not come to an end; we are all still travelling, moving forward into the future.
Re- (I, II, III) / The Triptych
Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 September
The Edinburgh Playhouse
Book now at eif.co.uk/retriptych
The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

Review: One Thousand and One Nights - Parts 1 and 2

Photo: Eoin Carey
By Órla Murray
Tim Supple’s One Thousand and One Nights (Alf Layla wa-Layla), a two-part saga through layer upon layer of stories from across the Arab world, was a marvel to behold. With over five hours of skilfully interwoven stories creating a labyrinthine web, the performance was a feat of skill and endurance by the stunningly effective cast.
I saw both parts in the same day in an effort (however pathetic) to understand how demanding such a long and intricate performance might be for the nineteen strong cast and six-piece musical ensemble. Time and exertion seemed inconsequential to both the actors and myself as they eagerly jumped between characters and costumes, finding depth and emotion wherever they landed and effortlessly mesmerising the audience.
The hypnotic nature of the narrative helps make more believable the central plot. King Shahrayar’s obsessive quest to bed a different virgin every night and kill her the next day is overcome by the enthralling character of Shahrazad, who tells him such compelling stories with nightly cliff-hangers, that he cannot help but postpone her death sentence. This complex switching between stories and characters pleasantly cascaded over the audience, ensuring we were as enthralled by the storytelling as the King, and thus the lengthy performance managed both to retain my attention and to entertain.
The narrative and acting were matched with complex staging that managed to seamlessly transform between scenes and locations. The cast's graceful and often erotic movement sequences were supported by clever props and versatile and inventive costume changes. The direction had a beautiful mix of tongue-in-cheek humour and self-awareness, eroticism, and powerful emotional undercurrents, as the stories moved from horrific back-stabbings and tearful monologues to hilarious slapstick comedy routines and sensual dances.
The use of sumptuous fabrics and heavy wooden doors as a backdrop, lit with a rich red and blue lighting scheme, ensured the performance transported the audience out of their seats in the Lyceum and into the streets, bazaars and palaces of the Middle East and Asia. The stories and feelings they evoked in both the actors and audience were timeless, and this was sustained by the agelessness of the performance. Intermingling Arabic, French and English, puns and innuendos, traditional and modern costumes, one was never quite sure if this was set in a modern day Egyptian bazaar or a long-forgotten Ottoman harem.
Watching Parts 1 and 2 on the same day ensured I enjoyed Alf Layla wa-Layla in all its theatrical glory, with my attention held through the entire performance. I eagerly awaited the next instalment through each 15 minutes interval and the two hour break between parts and at the end felt profoundly sad that the performance was over.
Supple’s two-year long casting process was entirely justified by his beguiling ensemble of actors, who were a delight and an honour to watch, This performance truly captured the feel of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival by showcasing not only the best stories but also the best talents from the Arabic speaking world with an immersive and entrancing experience that was my personal highlight of this year’s festival season.
One Thousand and One Nights closes at the Royal Lyceum Theatre on Saturday 3 September. Part 1 will be performed at 2pm, followed by Part 2 at 7pm.
Book now at eif.co.uk/1001
The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

01 September, 2011

Preview: Contemporary Dance

Photo: cie ea sola
By Emma Caldwell
The final week of Festival 2011 sees two contemporary dance productions arrive in Edinburgh - Ea Sola’s Drought and Rain (re-creation 2011) and Shen Wei’s Re- (I, II, III) / The Triptych.
Ea Sola is a French Vietnamese choreographer and Drought and Rain explores consciousness, historical memory and the human cost of the Vietnam War. The piece is hard to define as dance because there is little movement, yet it cannot be called theatre because nobody speaks. This is performance art with cultural importance.
The piece was first performed in 1995 and featured a cast of elderly women who were once dancers in their youth. Because of the outbreak of war, they had to abandon their art and pick up guns to help fight for their country, only returning to dance when Ea Sola approached them to perform.
The incarnation of Drought and Rain performed at the Festival is a recreation of the original work. Many of the performers from the 1995 production are now too elderly to take part and several have passed away. So, although the work will still explore the same themes as the original, it features younger women with different memories of the war. These women did not fight; instead they consoled injured soldiers and sang to them at the front.
Drought and Rain promises deep insight into the history and sufferings of Vietnam, and demonstrates that although we all suffer, we can all learn to forgive.
Shen Wei’s Re-Triptych is a three-part contemporary dance piece which takes the audience on a journey through Tibet, Cambodia and China. After spending time travelling along the Silk Road, New York-based Chinese choreographer Shen Wei, drew inspiration from his experiences and created works telling stories of spiritual and geographical homecoming.
The first part, Re- (I), features traditional Tibetan chants and a giant mandala made of confetti. During the piece the mandala will be slowly and deliberately destroyed by the dancers, resulting in an ever-changing, unique visual spectacle. Festival audiences are offered the chance to become part of this performance by donating to the Confetti Mandala Appeal, which will support not only this production but the Edinburgh International Festival for years to come.
Re- (II) was inspired by Cambodia and includes indigenous folk music in its soundtrack. The influence of the country’s surroundings can be seen in the dancers’ movements as they recreate an atmospheric world of twisted knotted banyan trees and lost temples.
The final section, Re- (III) recalls Shen Wei’s home country, China, celebrating its vast and rich cultural history as well as looking forward to its place in the 21st-century and the future. This part features a score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, with ‘found music’ including recorded voices, folk music and environmental sounds, collected by Shen Wei from his travels. The electronic, contemporary soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to the dancers’ movements, which fizz with a frenetic energy and perfectly conjure up a buzzing and busy modern-day China.
Both of these original contemporary works promise to take us on a journey of discovery, interpreting unique cultures through movement and music and offering audiences a new perspective on the human condition.
Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 September
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Book now at eif.co.uk/drought
Re- (I, II, III) / The Triptych
Shen Wei Dance Arts
Thursday 1 – Saturday 3 September
The Edinburgh Playhouse
Book now at eif.co.uk/retriptych
The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

31 August, 2011

Edinburgh International Festival Fringe Prize 2011: The TEAM

Photo: Rachel Chavkin
By Emma Caldwell

The Edinburgh International Festival Fringe Prize is awarded each year to a Fringe artist, or company, who has the potential to develop their work and transfer it to the International Festival’s stage. The prize promotes excellence in the arts and provides an opportunity for up-and-coming artists to develop and devise new ideas. It also helps strengthen links between the Festival and the Fringe, recognising the wealth of talent performing in Edinburgh every year. The winner is selected by Festival Director Jonathan Mills on the recommendations of a panel of expert judges, all of whom work in the arts.

This year the prize has been awarded to The TEAM (Theatre of the Emerging American Moment) for their production Mission Drift. The New York-based company first decided to come to Edinburgh in 2005 after attending the Edinburgh Fringe Road Show in New York City which convinced Artistic Director Rachel Chavkin Edinburgh was a great place to showcase work and get reviews. They took a gamble and brought over Give Up! Start Over!  a solo performance about reality television, Richard Nixon and the search for authenticity in America. Luckily the gamble paid off - the company had an incredibly successful run at C Venues and won a Scotsman Fringe First Award.

Following the success of their Fringe debut, The TEAM returned in 2006 with Particularly in the Heartland, another work exploring and celebrating the experience of living in America. This piece was set in Kansas, America’s heartland, and featured a series of bizarre and inventive characters - an alien in possession of the body of a dead pregnant teenage girl, a business woman named Dorothy whose plane has crashed in the cornfields, and the ghost of 1968 democratic presidential hopeful and liberal icon Robert F. Kennedy. In another year of critical acclaim, the company was awarded its second Fringe First.

Returning in 2008 with Architecting, the company told the story of the American South, taking the audience on a multi-media road trip through civil war, and questioning whether the country would ever recover from slavery. Playing to sell-out audiences at the Traverse Theatre and receiving numerous five star reviews, it was no surprise when this production won the TEAM their third Fringe First award.

Mission Drift is the company’s most ambitious project to date. The production held its world premiere at the Traverse Theatre earlier this month following development work at the Almeida in London. The piece is an exploration of capitalism, told through atomic blasts, lizard ballet and music that fuses Vegas glitz with Western ballads and Southern Blues. It follows the story of an immortal Dutch couple setting out west from Amsterdam to New Amsterdam to financially devastated modern-day Las Vegas. Focusing on the meaning and shape of American Capitalism, it takes the audience on a picaresque and avant-garde journey through the quest for the American dream.

The production was well received by both audiences and critics. The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner praised the way the company “playfully dissected” the economics of modern America while The Telegraph declared it the best show they had seen at the Fringe. The Independent summed up the experience thus: “The TEAM specialise in total theatre... they also specialise in total entertainment”.

The TEAM were thrilled to be recognised by the International Festival with the Fringe Prize, and are delighted with the opportunities it provides to develop their work for new audiences. They will use the Prize to create a new project and are already brimming with ideas of what to do next. Look out for the TEAM at Festival 2012.

For more information about the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe prize visit eif.co.uk.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

30 August, 2011

Review: The Legendary Music of Rajasthan

Photo: Hema Narayanan
By Jane Compton

At The Legendary Music of Rajasthan, accomplished folk artists Lakha Khan, Kadar Khan and Bhanwari Devi gave the audience a rare chance to experience a live performance of the centuries-old indigenous musical heritage treasured by the desert communities of north-west India. Dressed in vibrantly coloured traditional clothes, they sat cross-legged on the stage, joined by a further four musicians who provided vocal and instrumental accompaniment.

The concert was held in the magnificent main hall of the National Museum of Scotland which re-opened in July following a £47.4 million, three year redevelopment. Lakha Khan began proceedings with lilting, soothing songs for voice and sarangi, a stringed instrument held against the chest and played with a bow. One of only three musicians from the Manganiyar community to have been awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award from India’s National Academy of Music, Drama and the Arts, he is also a skilled luthier who handcrafts and fine tunes his own instruments.

Kadar Khan presented ancient pieces from the massive repertoire of the Sarangiya Langa community which he calls home. Taught the sarangi as a child, since 1982 he has performed throughout India and across the world. He was accompanied by Noore Khan on voice and sarangi and by Papamir on the dholak, a classical north Indian hand drum similar in timbre to the bongos. The inimitable sounds produced by the sarangi were expertly shaped into bold and evocative melodies that blended very effectively with the brisk and energetic percussive beats.

During short intermissions between performances, interesting contextual commentary was provided by Divya Bhatia, the Artistic Director of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation and the Rajasthan International Folk Festival. HRH Prince Charles is the international patron of the Foundation which works with musicians, dancers and other artists in Rajasthan, helping them to use their skills, traditions and knowledge to enhance their lives and promote understanding of their heritage.

Singer Bhanwari Devi and her sons Krishna Kumar and Indra Chand travelled outside India for the very first time to participate in the Festival and share the music of their Bhopa community with an international audience. Traditionally, the Bhopas are itinerant priest singers of the folk deities of 14th-century Rajasthan and they are invited to perform in villages, particularly during times of illness and adversity, as their presence is considered to be a blessing.

At these performances, historical poems are sung by the bhopa (husband) and bhopi (wife) in front of an intricate scroll called a phad, which features scenes from the deity’s life. After Bhanwari was widowed in 2004, her son Krishna, a singer and harmonium player, took over the role of the bhopa. Gifted with an exceptionally powerful and sonorous voice, Bhanwari’s duet with Krishna was one of the highlights of the evening.

For the last song, all seven musicians performed together in an excellent finale to a great night. Their appearance at Festival 2011 has been made possible with the support of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi which seeks to promote cultural exchange and understanding between India and the rest of the world.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call  0131 473 2000.

28 August, 2011

Review: Sriyah

Photo: Sonia Manchanda
By Mateusz Jażdżewski

I have to be honest; I am not an expert in Indian dance or culture so I can only judge it with my intuition and senses. Śriyah performed by The Nrityagram Dance Ensemble was a spell-binding, colourful show however I struggled at points to make out what it was all about.

The group from India seemed to have taken into consideration that European audiences are not used to their style. Each piece is introduced with a brief explanation of what is going to happen on stage, so the audience gets to know about the Indian traditions and types of classical dance demonstrated. One of the most distinctive dance forms is Odissi. Originating from the Eastern border of India, it was traditionally performed by young women in temples as an act of worship.

The Odissi repertoire consists of various pieces, all of which have a special importance. The movements comprising each piece centre on the Tribhangi stance, meaning independent movement of the head, chest and pelvis. The body is formed into an ‘S’ shape, which creates a sense of balance as the dance is performed. On stage, it looks like ancient temple sculptures have come to life.

Although during the performance the artists explained the different dance forms and the meaning of their movements, I didn’t fully appreciate the show. The dance, music and intimate lighting created an enjoyable spectacle, but it wasn’t sufficient enough to absorb me into their world.

Friday 26 – Monday 29 August
King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Book tickets at eif.co.uk/sriyah.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.

Review: Scottish Ballet

Photo: Andrew Ross
By Alice Longhurst

A flock of red costumed Scottish Ballet dancers frolic flat footed to the sublime strains of Mozart’s First Violin Concerto. This is Kings 2 Ends, a stunning new work by Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo, commissioned for the Edinburgh International Festival 2011. Employing unconventional movements which transcend classical restrictions and push the edges of their capabilities, Elo’s dancers engage in a physicality which seems both reassuringly organic and at times even absurd.

During lifts performers bobble their heads from side to side, and accurate group work sequences are broken by robotic chops and whole body undulations, lending the production originality and humour. The influence of Elo’s ice hockey background is obvious here in the speed at which dancers spin around the stage, twisting and gliding rather than using stiff en pointe pirouettes.

Although there is no clear narrative and the sparse costumes and set do not provide much visual information, the choreography and music speak for themselves, engaging the imagination so we form our own conclusions. This is aided by the striking choice of music, with Elo setting Mozart beside Steve Reich’s almost mathematical Double Sextet and using long punctuating silent sequences. The contrast between all three of these elements works well, giving an overall effect which is both exuberant and irreverent.

Balancing Elo’s contemporary work, the second part of the evening is graced by Kenneth MacMillan’s legendary Song of the Earth. The ballet is a physical setting of Mahler’s great song cycle Das Lied von der Erde and the staging is deliberately pared down to allow the dark power of the music to shine through. Dancers share the stage with mezzo soprano Katarina Karnéus and tenor Peter Webb who sing Mahler’s six songs taken from ancient Chinese poetry in the original German.

The poetry and choreography explore the eternal themes of love, death and loss, and this universality works well with both the Chinese motifs in Mahler’s music and the German language adaptations of poems from T’ang dynasty China. Physically, movements crackle with emotional energy, dominated by the ominous central trio - the man, woman and the ever present and benign Messenger of Death.

Although links between the two pieces are hard to spot, the intentionally bold contrasts between and within them are refreshing and feel original. Following on from Elo’s irreverent organic new work, MacMillan’s mighty Song of the Earth seems all the more resonant and poignant. Scottish Ballet’s performance is at once stunning and thought-provoking, proving the company’s ability to excel both in challenging contemporary works and classical masterpieces.

Scottish Ballet

Kings 2 Ends Jorma Elo
Song of the Earth Kenneth MacMillan

Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Sian Edwards Conductor
Katarina Karnéus Mezzo soprano
Peter Wedd Tenor

Friday 26 – Sunday 28 August, 7.30pm
The Edinburgh Playhouse

Book tickets at eif.co.uk/scottishballet

The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.