Flavours of the Edinburgh International Festival 2013

With live performances and heavy use of digital media, the Edinburgh International Festival 2013 steals a peek far into the future and a glimpse at the past

Feature by Eric Karoulla | 30 Jul 2013

While not featuring Mogwai or Massive Attack (as the Manchester International Festival did), this year’s Edinburgh International Festival has a diverse programme. 

In true post-apocalyptic fashion, it consists of shows taking advantage of interactive and innovative media –from a one-man show about the difficulties of everyday life, to a dance piece that ensnares the senses, an opera featuring space stations, and also a site-specific performance about abandoning the Earth.

First and foremost: Metamorphosis (10-12 Aug, King's Theatre), Kafka's tale of anxiety and frustration, is given a new spin by Wu Hsing-Kuo of Contemporary Legend theatre. All the way from Taiwan, this adaptation of Kafka’s novel fuses together multimedia, live music and aesthetics from Peking Opera tradition. The flourishes of colour and  in the costume design form a stark contrast to Kafka’s desolate tale that dates back to 1915. Taking the mythical ethereal element of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, this one man show depicts Kafka’s story through the lens of age-old traditions from the East.

Next up, there is Scottish Dance Theatre's SisGo (17&18 Aug, Festival Theatre) already sold out – that promises to be an exhilarating sensory experience. Choreographed by Fleur Darkin, the performance is intended to be a physical conversation between the audience and the performers. In a world where the buzz and hum of daily life never stops, this show tries to replace the verbal communication with physical movement. 

SisGo is based around social dance situations, like going out clubbing. Any decision made manifests itself physically – much like dancing in a club, then heading to the bar to get a drink and returning to the dancefloor. While there will be no drinking involved, it requires no audience participation, but in Darkin’s words rather “invites the audience to experience the dance as a visceral artform, not as a spectacle”.

After all, audience members will be at arm’s length of ten of Scotland’s most talented dancers – close enough to see, hear, and even feel them moving. With costumes by Hayley Scanlan, Dundee's V & A young fashion designer of 2012, and minimalist music from Berlin, this experience has been designed to be “strong on sensation.”

The dance programme this year also showcases work by Jose Montalvo and his company in the form of Don Quichotte du Trocadéro (29-31 Aug, Festival Theatre). This is a large-scale production featuring all kinds of dance – from hip hop to ballroom to burlesque to ballet. Although it shares a lead character with Cervantes' novel, this show takes us on a journey through dance; Don Quichotte is a gentleman in his fifties trying to achieve greatness in the dancehalls of Europe. Featuring Patrice Thibaud along with a great deal of visual and digitally-manufactured effects, it is bound to be a surreal experience. 

Meanwhile, starting off at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Grid Iron theatre's Leaving Planet Earth (10-24 Aug, sold out) tackles a future that many post-apocalyptic, sci-fi films have wrestled with. As in the distant alternate reality portrayed by Wall-E, humans have decided to leave Earth (Old Earth) and are taken to New Earth. But what happens when the very architect of this new world begins to doubt and question her own creation? 

Initially inspired by an article written by George Monbiot, Grid Iron theatre have put together this site-specific world premiere that incorporates digital technologies into live theatre. 

Philip Glass’s latest endeavour explores humanity’s fascination with beauty and horror, using the black and white film La Belle et la Bete (1946) as a starting point. Removing the original score and dialogue, he substitutes in his own version (10&11 Aug, Edinburgh Playhouse). The score by Glass and the operatic back and forth which he has added in sync with the screen are performed live by the Philip Glass Ensemble.

While this is part of the EIF, it is also part of the British Film Institute’s Gothic season, that invites people to “explore the dark heart of film” nationwide.

Meanwhile, although the Wooster Group performances of Hamlet are sold out, another tribute to Shakespeare seems to be of an equally epic scale. Directed by Lin Zhaohua, an immense production of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Coriolanus is brought back to life by the Beijing People’s Art Theatre (20&21 Aug, Edinburgh Playhouse), featuring live music by Miserable Faith and Suffocated, two of China’s leading heavy metal bands.

The International Festival 2013 programming holds many promises for festival-goers and raises the bar for local performers. With works of this scale and at this level, it is hard to imagine any other work being competitive or even comparable to it, however the volume of work (and cheaper ticket) at the Fringe makes up for that. Either way, these pieces seem they are worth keeping an eye out for.