The International Festival

Summer heats up in Edinburgh

Feature by Gareth K Vile and Amanda Grimm | 01 Aug 2010

Jonathan Mills, artistic director of the International Festival, has promised "a programme so hot, you'll need suncream." Hyperbole aside, Mills' programme demonstrates his strength and imagination as a curator, as he moves the summer's most formal festivities in a contemporary and energetic direction.

Mills keeps one foot in the traditional camp, but has an eye for the new wave of artists that continue to push within their media. His real skill, however, is in the cunning themes that run through the production. Across the board, ideas about national identity, the slippages between Old and New Worlds, and the relationship between the local and the universal engender a programme that includes new work from under-exposed countries to be juxtaposed with the greats.

If The Gospel at Colonus works with traditional genres – Greek tragedy and African American spirituals – its fusion of drama and song has made this one of the great successes of the late twentieth century. Next to this, the Chilean hybrid of film and play from Teatro Cinema is signposted as a future classic.

For contemporary ballet, catch Alonzo King Lines Ballet's UK debut. This San Francisco-based company excels under the direction of visionary choreographer Alonzo King, recipient of the Jacob’s Pillow Creativity Award for “moving ballet in a very 21st-century direction.” The company performs only works by King, which, although firmly rooted in classical technique, are characterised by innovative contemporary movement.     

Rasa is a collaboration between King and Grammy-winning tabla master Zakir Hussain. The dancers' movements reflect and react to the complex rhythmic systems of the tabla (the main form of percussion within the Hindustani music of North India), as Hussain performs live on stage, along with singer and violinist Kala Ramnath.

This exciting, fast-paced piece is nicely complemented by the other half of the programme, DUST and LIGHT. Set to Corelli's beautiful, soaring baroque music and Poulenc's ethereal choral odes, it features innovative, tender partnering and choreography that "brings out the emotional intimacy of dance."

The cross-over between local and international issues is seen nowhere so clearly as in Lemi Ponifasio's contemporary dance. Despite drawing on Samoan culture, he claims that "In Tempest I am talking about the condition of our world that we all live in." His ambitions as a choreographer extend far beyond mere elegance of line. "It is about finding our common genealogy: the condition of the human, politics, freedom, democracy and the society we find ourselves in, especially post 9/11."

Adding in the Kronos Quartet – still revolutionary in their approach to the string quartet – the legendary Pina Bausch and a return from the genre-twisting Wooster Group connects 2010 both to previous EIFs and the most radical large scale companies in the world today. Despite a reputation for being the most staid of Edinburgh's happenings, the EIF is making a claim to be the most dynamic. At the very least, the companies are all polished and professional, while Mills' selection boasts artists who are not willing to let becoming part of an establishment draw their creative fire.