Spirit of '47 sees cross-border collaboration take centre stage at the Edinburgh International Festival
- Alex Johnston
- 14 June 2017
The EIF celebrates its own 70th birthday and its international reach with a curated programme of events
1947 may not be up there with such iconic 20th century years as 1929 (Stock Market Crash!), 1939 (War!), 1940 (Britain stands alone!) or 1963 (Beatlemania!), but it was a year of big changes. In Britain, the Attlee government was working furiously to turn the National Health Service from legislation into reality; in America, President Truman announced to Congress his intention to stop the spread of communism, thereby kicking off the Cold War; elsewhere in America, the first UFOs were spotted; Pakistan and India became independent countries; and the Soviet Union contributed to the fun by starting production of the AK-47 assault rifle. Given that, in 1967, it was 'twenty years ago today [that] Sgt Pepper taught the band to play', the Lonely Hearts Club Band must have been having its first rehearsals.
Meanwhile in Edinburgh, a group of people, inspired by the post-war spirit of dogged recovery and undeterred by a diet of tinned snoek and National Loaf, resolved to have a festival to celebrate international cooperation. Seventy years on, with international cooperation threatened from several directions at once, the EIF is emphasising the same across-the-borders spirit. Graham Sheffield, the British Council's Director Arts, says 'In 2017 our horizons are global, the artforms more diverse, but the need for arts and culture is no less. Spirit of '47 will restate to a global audience in Edinburgh our strong belief that the arts can connect and inspire us in the most turbulent times'. To that end, Spirit of '47 rejects Brexit provinciality with an impressive display of cosmopolitan open-mindedness.
Lola Arias's Minefield is a searing piece of documentary theatre about the Falklands War, performed by veterans from both sides of the conflict. Azade Shahmiri is an Iranian writer, director and performer, and her work Voicelessness imagines a dystopian future 50 years from now.
The New European Songbook pairs European musicians with artists who've recently migrated to their country, in order to create a new song. It features UK musicians such as Matthew Herbert and Karine Polwart; Austrian pop diva Conchita Wurst with Syrian trio Basalt; Syrian violinist and composer Shalan Alhamwy with his compatriot, soprano Rasha Rizk, and other combinations. This collaboration takes place by means of the European Broadcasting Union and will be broadcast on the BBC.
American novelist Paul Auster is 70 this year and has just published his longest novel by far, 4 3 2 1. He'll be in Edinburgh to talk about his life, his career and the changes he's seen. The great sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar plays music from her album Land of Gold, inspired by the ongoing refugee crisis, and is joined by Pakistani Qawwali singer Faiz Ali Faiz for an evening of music from the Sufi tradition. There's also music from Benjamin Clementine, whose debut album At Least for Now won the 2015 Mercury Prize.
Throughout the festival, artist and musician Martin Creed runs an evening of non-conformist cabaret, Words and Music, inviting the public to question what constitutes a work of art. The Royal Court presents New and Now, readings of new plays by writers from the Ukraine, China, Chile, Palestine, Lebanon and Cuba. There's also Spirited Voices, a series of talks about themes of culture and conflict, global citizenship and internationalism, and film screenings.
You can find more details about Spirit of '47 on the EIF website.
Spirit of '47 is based at The Studio, Potterrow from Sun 6–Wed 16 Aug 2017.