Edinburgh theater fest testing borders

Scottish festival takes on changing Europe

EDINBURGH — It’s taken an Australian to make auds in Scotland face the realities of a changing Europe.

The Sydney-born Jonathan Mills, helmer of the Edinburgh Intl. Festival, has dedicated his second program to exploring the borders of a European Union that has recently expanded from 15 nations to 27 and now encompasses a population of close to half a billion. By inviting companies such as Poland’s TR Warszawa, Sarajevo’s East West Center and the State Ballet of Georgia to the event, which runs Aug. 8-31, he aims to provoke a debate about a continent in flux.

“This is not a kind of hagiography of new Europe,” says Mills of the just-announced lineup. “It isn’t a ‘Welcome to the club, hoorah, hoorah!’ to the new member states of the European Union. It’s a discussion about the challenges, the frictions, the fault lines, the spiritual and cultural differences that make up this very dynamic community.”

TR Warszawa will present two productions. The first is a harrowing staging of Sarah Kane’s “4:48 Psychosis” by helmer Grzegorz Jarzyna, taking us to the metaphorical border between sanity and madness. The second is an adaptation of Szymon Ansky’s Jewish fable “The Dybbuk,” combined with a reworking of the same story by Hanna Krall inspired by the experiences of the Warsaw Ghetto. The drama is about a borderless people in a country with its own uncertain borders.

For the East West Center, helmer Haris Pasovic has taken “Class Enemy” by British playwright Nigel Williams and relocated it to a decrepit Sarajevo school room where violence is a daily part of post-Yugoslavia life. Further evocations of war appear in “Ruhe” by Belgium’s Muziektheater Transparant, in which a Schubert music recital is rudely interrupted by verbatim testimonies of SS volunteers.

Mills also looks beyond Europe by keeping his definition broad. “A border is not just defined by what is contained within it, but also what is outside it,” he says. That accounts for the presence of “Jidariyya,” a poetic meditation on life and death by the National Theater of Palestine, and a film installation of a traditional Iranian “Tazieh,” an epic form of sung storytelling.

Straddling the border between madness and sanity is Australian Barrie Kosky’s music-driven adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” while the division between adolescence and adulthood will be explored in the National Theater of Scotland’s “365,” scripted by David Harrower (“Blackbird”) in collaboration with helmer Vicky Featherstone.

Other highlights, not all exploring the border theme, include a new piece by Heiner Goebbels and the Hilliard Ensemble, the premiere of choreographer Matthew Bourne’s “Dorian Gray” and a work-in-progress performance by Gotham’s Clancy Prods. as part of a £5,000 ($9,916) plan to develop work by an Edinburgh Festival Fringe company. The Fringe program will launch June 5.

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