The 50th Brighton Festival launches with Laurie Anderson as Guest Director

The full programme for the 50th Brighton Festival (7-29 May 2016) - the largest and most established curated annual multi-arts festival in England - was unveiled today with experimental artist and musician Laurie Anderson as Guest Director.

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. Anderson takes the helm as Brighton Festival marks its milestone 50th year of commissioning and producing innovative arts and culture by exploring the theme of ‘home and place’ across its 2016 programme.

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.

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 Sans Soleil (Sunless) - an elegiac masterpiece by her 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.

With the theme of ‘home’ at the heart of the programme, 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 a series of events including Yanis Varoufakis, Lionel Shriver, Marlon James and Mark Haddon. It 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. 

Laurie Anderson says: "I'm so happy to be serving as Guest Director of Brighton Festival in its historic 50th year. 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. Maybe because I’m a working musician and often on the road, the idea of home is pretty appealing to me. It’s also a great idea for a festival - trying to find out who and where you are. See you there!

Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Festival says: “It’s very special for us to be marking the 50th Brighton Festival with Laurie Anderson as Guest Director. Every year since 1967 some of the greatest artists, performers and thinkers have come together with some of the most open-minded and enthusiastic audiences 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 – time and again throughout the programme we see opportunities to get involved to explore our own creativity and to celebrate, together, this wonderful festival in its 50th year.” 

Hedley Swain, Area Director, South East, Arts Council England, said: “It is very fitting that the theme for Brighton Festival’s 50th programme is ‘home and place’. The Festival, and more widely arts and culture in general, have long been synonymous with Brighton. Collectively they deliver inspiring performances and exhibitions for local communities, attract people from far and wide to drive cultural tourism and make a strong contribution to the local economy. This success is built on strong partnerships across the city, including Brighton & Hove City Council, and is a great example of collaborative investment and working that others can learn from. Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival’s forthcoming capital project will help to build on the success to date, ensuring Brighton remains one of England’s cultural leading lights.”