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Brighton Festival 2015 Launches with Guest Director Ali Smith | reviews, news & interviews

Brighton Festival 2015 Launches with Guest Director Ali Smith

Brighton Festival 2015 Launches with Guest Director Ali Smith

The annual arts extravaganza reveals what it has in store for May 2015

Ali Smith mulls over what to see in her jam-packed Festival programme

Prize-winning author and Brighton Festival Guest Director Ali Smith can barely keep still. She wriggles about in her seat before an audience of journalists at Brighton’s Dome Studio Theatre, gesturing around with unabashed enthusiasm. Sat beside her is Festival CEO Andrew Comben whose job it is to bring this supposedly self-effacing writer out of herself. Today she doesn’t need much coaxing. When asked if it was exciting putting the programme together she breathlessly announces, “I’m still reeling,” as gleeful as a child let loose in a toyshop.

A yellow bird silhouetted on a map of Brighton seafront is spread across the programme cover. It represents the three central themes of this year’s Festival: Art and nature; the crossing places between art forms; “Taking Liberty”. The latter is a celebration of our freedoms, especially pertinent as the Festival takes place between 2 and 24 May, a time-frame that includes the General Election.

There’s not a single day when I haven’t marked 12 things in the programme

The Festival’s opening and closing events are inspired by the murmuration – the mesmerising flocking behaviour – of the starlings around Brighton Pier and the delapidated remains of the West Pier. As always the 5,000 strong Children’s Parade kicks things off, the city’s own junior Mardi Gras, this year bearing the theme "Taking Flight", while the Festival’s closing event is a specially commissioned free beachside spectacular called Fleeting, created by the And Now collective. In between, across multiple venues, Ali Smith has curated a line-up that’s thought-provoking, exciting and occasionally off-the-wall..

Legendary 86-year-old French film director and feminist Agnès Varda will be creating a gallery installation and giving a talk (“She may even dress as a potato,” says Smith gleefully, referring to Varda’s surrealist tendencies); folk singer Sam Lee will be leading night-time walks into local woodland where he will sing to the nightingales with his band; extraordinary mezzo-soprano stylist Alice Coote will present the specially commissioned Being Both, wherein she explores the music of Handel from the perspective of gender; New York’s Public Theater will perform Tony Award-winning playwright Richard Nelson’s tetralogy of plays about the fictional Apple Family; Liberty director and author Shami Chakrabarti will be hosting an evening of discussion about the Human Rights Act, featuring names such as Billy Bragg, Neil Bartlett, Bidisha and Jackie Kay.

Smith bubbles over with enthusiasm as she explains that Margaret Atwood and her partner Graeme Gibson, both successful authors, have been tempted over from Canada to host an evening devoted to their mutual interest in bird-life conservation issues. The Festival programme is chock full of such appearances by a multitude of similarly familiar names from the widest range of art forms and disciplines – Nina Conti, the Hallé Orchestra, Jeanette Winterson, Sylvain Emard Danse, Jacqueline Wilson, the Britten Sinfonia, Philip Pullman, Carleen Anderson, Rachel Kneebone, Carol Ann Duffy, Squarepusher, Anna Calvi, Caroline Moorhead, Kate Tempest, Joey Arias, Saint Etienne and Laurie Anderson, to name but a few.

“There’s not a single day when I haven’t marked 12 things in the programme,” Smith laughs. Her enthusiasm is infectious, for she has a very good point. There really is a gigantic amount to look forward to at Brighton Festival 2015.

Below: watch a special introduction by Andrew Comben to the Brighton Festival 2015

Folk singer Sam Lee will be leading night-time walks into local woodland where he will sing to the nightingales with his band

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