The full programme for the 50th Brighton Festival was unveiled today, with experimental artist and musician Laurie Anderson as Guest Director. The largest and most established curated annual multi-arts festival in England, it comes to venues across Brighton on Sat 7 – Sun 29 May, and is themed around the topic of ‘home and place’ for 2016.
Renowned for her inventive use of technology, Anderson is one of America’s most daring creative pioneers. In roles as varied as artist, composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker, vocalist and instrumentalist, she has been experimenting, creating and challenging audiences all over the world for almost as long as Brighton Festival has existed.
Taking inspiration from Anderson’s multidisciplinary career as well as the original intentions of Brighton Festival to celebrate the new and the avant-garde, the eclectic programme – which spans music, theatre, dance, visual art, film, literature and debate – features work from some of the most innovative national and international artists. It includes 54 commissions, co-commissions, exclusives and premieres such as two exclusive performances from ‘folktronica’ pioneer Beth Orton, choreographer and dancer Akram Khan’s new full-length production Until The Lions; and the world premiere of a global collaborative work by Turner Prize-winning British artist Gillian Wearing.
“I’m so happy to be serving as Guest Director of Brighton Festival in its historic 50th year,” said Anderson. “I’ve been part of the Festival several times and it is so big and sprawling and exciting and there’s so many different things going on – it really has a kind of celebratory, crazy, art party feel to it. And I love the theme of home and place. It is especially relevant with so many people in the world on the move now looking, like all of us, for a place we can belong.”
Anderson’s own events include the UK premiere of her unique Music for Dogs, a concert specially designed for the canine ear; a screening of her acclaimed new film Heart of a Dog, described by Anderson herself as: ‘full of stories about how you make a story . . . nominally a film about me and my dog but really it’s not, it’s about love and language’; an exclusive new performance monologue about place and places called Slideshow; and a freewheeling walk through sonic spaces with fellow musician-composers, pianist Nik Bärtsch and guitarist Eivind Aarset.
Many of Anderson’s interests, passions and achievements are also explored including the UK premiere of Lou Reed Drones, an installation of her late husband’s guitars and amps in feedback mode which she describes as ‘kind of as close to Lou’s music as we can get these days’; a special screening of critically acclaimed film Sans Soleil (Sunless) – an elegiac masterpiece by Anderson’s favourite director Chris Marker; and a series of events that explore innovation and technology in the arts, including Complicite/Simon Burney’s acclaimed The Encounter and Brighton-based Art of Disappearing ’s outdoor adventure The Last Resort.
Brighton Festival 2016 will celebrate its relationship with the unique, energetic and creative city of Brighton, its artists, its characters, its sense of place and spirit whilst also considering universal issues and ideas around home, our communities and places of safety. Highlights include a new work from Argentinian artist Lola Arias developed with and performed by veterans of the Falklands conflict; experimental composer and musician Yuval Avital’s potent and thought-provoking new work, Fuga Perpetua, which reflects on the situation of refugees; and the UK premiere of Berlin’s Zvizdal, a filmic portrait of an elderly couple’s self-imposed solitude in the region affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
The rich diversity of home-grown artists and companies are celebrated in a series of special commissions that include two works marking the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death: The Complete Deaths, a re-enactment of every onstage death from Brighton-based artistic powerhouses Spymonkey and Tim Crouch, and Digging for Shakespeare by Marc Rees, a site-specific homage to 19th Century Brighton eccentric and world-renowned Shakespearean scholar James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps; Stella , a theatrical love letter to one half of the infamous Victorian cross-dressing duo Fanny and Stella by playwright Neil Bartlett; and the world premiere of Blast Theory & Hydrocracker’s immersive undercover police drama Operation Black Antler.
Other city-inspired highlights include a specially commissioned film Brighton: Symphony of a City, screened to a new score performed by Orchestra of Sound and Light, and the entire Royal Pavilion Estate playing host to Dr Blighty; an ambitious, large-scale, immersive outdoor experience which highlights the untold story of wounded Indian soldiers hospitalised in Brighton during World War One. Kicking off with the Children’s Parade – the largest of its kind in Europe – Brighton Festival 2016 will also see a record number of community-focussed events throughout the programme including the annual City Reads and Young City Reads produced in partnership with Collected Works and Future Gazers which asks school pupils to imagine the world in 50 years’ time.
2016 also sees Brighton Festival work with Guardian Live in a special partnership to deliver the Books and Debate programme with an impressive line-up of writers and commentators that includes a panel debate on the looming EU Referendum and a visit from former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis as well as appearances from an Orange prize winner (Lionel Shriver) and two Booker prize winners (Marlon James and Howard Jacobson). Brighton Festival 2016 will also see the return of caravan (15-17 May 2016), a three-day biennial curated industry showcase of the best new theatre from across England, which this year features eight performances open to the public.
“It’s very special for us to be marking the 50th Brighton Festival with Laurie Anderson as Guest Director, said Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Festival. “Every year since 1967 some of the greatest artists, performers and thinkers have come together with some of the most open-minded and enthusiastic audience s anywhere for a festival whose home is one of the most artistically rich and geographically blessed places in the country. Laurie is well-known and well-loved by the city and has been has been experimenting, creating and challenging audiences all over the world for almost as long as Brighton Festival has existed. Alongside the startling international and newly commissioned work that we’re bringing, she has been particularly enthusiastic about finding ways in which the festival can invite the participation of the whole community.”
The eighth Guest Director of Brighton Festival, Laurie Anderson follows in the footsteps of visual artist Anish Kapoor (2009), musician Brian Eno (2010), Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (2011), actress and human rights campaigner Vanessa Redgrave (2012), poet, author and former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen (2013), choreographer, composer and performer Hofesh Shechter (2014) and award-winning author Ali Smith (2015) in shaping the three week programme of cultural events.
Established in 1967, Brighton Festival has become one of the city’s most enduring symbols of inventiveness and celebration over the past half century. Its original intentions as set out by the first Director Sir Ian Hunter were: “to stimulate townsfolk and visitors into taking a new look at the arts and to give them the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture where the serious and the apparently flippant ride side by side”. The inaugural programme included the first ever exhibition of Concrete Poetry in the UK, a ‘Kinetic labyrinth’ on the West pier, and a site specific project which attempted to ‘change the colour of the sea’ alongside performances by Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins and Yehudi Menuhin. Now one of Europe’s leading arts festivals, Brighton Festival is known for its ambitious and daring programme that aims to make the most of the city’s distinctive cultural atmosphere.
The 50th Brighton Festival comes to venues across Brighton on Sat 7 – Sun 29 May.