Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 16:40 UK

'It's certainly not going to be dull'

By Pauline McLean
BBC Scotland, arts correspondent

Three by Ohad Naharin (Batsheva Dance Theatre)
Three by Ohad Naharin (Batsheva Dance Theatre)
This year's Edinburgh International Festival is the second under the leadership of Australian director Jonathan Mills.

His theme this year is Europe and it's his most ambitious programme to date.

Although last year was Jonathan Mill's first year in the job, it's this year, with his feet well and truly under the table, where we get a real sense of his direction and ambition.

And what ambition. A festival devoted to the fluctuating nature of the

European Union and its ever changing cultural and political boundaries.

A tall order but one which, at least on paper, it looks like he's achieved.

Of course, it's not a new theme - the first festival back in 1947 was founded to look at those very issues, as a fragmented Europe picked itself back up after World War II.

But much has changed - from global, 24 hour news coverage to the arrival of the internet - so it's a complex subject on every level.

As an Australian, Jonathan Mills has always been somewhat baffled by Scotland's attitude towards the festival
Pauline McLean

Admittedly, there are plenty of performers - from all parts of Europe - willing to give it a try.

At the same time, silencing any of those early grumblings that Mills would simply continue to invite the fairly small group of performers and organisations who'd traditionally played the festival in his predecessor's 15-year-reign.

Look at the list of those who'll make their debut: HK Gruber, Palestinian National Theatre, TR Warszawa, East West Theatre Company, Abbas Kiarostami, Muziektheater Transparant, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Andrzej Seweryn, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Philippe Herreweghe.

All companies new to Edinburgh and new to the festival.

And many as familiar from news items as from cultural magazines - East West Theatre Company from Sarajevo and the Palestinian National Theatre for example.

So Mills has drawn in some big name commentators to make sense of it all - Neal Ascherson, Christopher Hitchens, Dr John Lennox and Professor Graham Ward will all give lectures.

Jidariyya (Palestinian National Theater)
Jidariyya (Palestinian National Theater)

There's plenty home grown talent too - another common complaint - with Scottish Opera becoming the first successful recipient of money from the government's new festival expo fund for their production of Smetana's The Two Widows.

And the National Theatre of Scotland will return too for a new work which will unite playwright David Harrower and singer Paul Buchanan.

As an Australian, Jonathan Mills has always been somewhat baffled by Scotland's attitude towards the festival - a take it or leave it approach, sadly reflected in everything from funding, to the amount of coverage it receives.

Like former Fringe director Paul Gudgin, he makes the point that if this was a sporting event, it would dominate the headlines and the coffers.

This year's feast of culture may not bring about that sea change, but it should at least rock the boat with three world premieres, two European premieres, 10 UK premieres and a host of new productions of well-known works.

From Matthew Bourne exploring the story of Dorian Gray with his New Adventures Dance company to the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey, it's certainly not going to be dull in Edinburgh this August.


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