Festival guest director tells how Brighton can make anything – and anywhere – seem possible

Posted On 04 May 2015 at 3:48 pm

The author and Brighton Festival guest director Ali Smith has written a flight of fancy headlined “The Joy of Finding Myself Guest Director of Brighton Festival”.

Her piece, published by the Huffington Post, covered some of the ground that she spoke about when she announced the programme for this year’s Festival.

She wrote: “Well, I said, I like how the arts have no real borders between them, how all the different arts cross fertilise each other, even create each other, and I like how Brighton, on the edge of the country, is so wide open to sky, and to the rest of Europe, and especially how it’s one of the first places those birds see, the birds coming up for summer from the rest of the world every year, crossing landscapes which to them have no borders at all, and I’m interested in how nature and the arts are in a constant relationship with one another, and right now maybe even more so than usual.

Ali Smith

Ali Smith

“The team sat, listened, wrote stuff down, smiled, then asked me who I’d like to invite.

“What, anyone? I said, thinking in my head, there’s no way, it’s ridiculous even to mention this person, that theatre company, that show.

“No, really. Anyone, they said.

“Well, Agnes Varda, I said, still thinking, ha, no way. And can we invite a brace of great female British film directors too? Do I dare suggest Laurie Anderson? Margaret Atwood? Elif Shafak? Masha Gessen? The existentialist ventriloquist Nina Conti? And there’s this brilliant New York avant-garde theatre company I love called Mabou Mines, can they come? And and and …

“I said a lot of wish fulfilment out loud. They wrote everything down. No way, I thought again, and got on the train home.

“Not long after this meeting I began to get the astonishing emails. Agnes Varda’s a yes. Nina Conti says yes. Laurie Anderson is going to write us a new show about how animals and stories have featured in her work over the years. Mabou Mines is bringing its genre busting show about James Joyce’s daughter, Lucia’s Chapters of Going Forth by Day. And and and …

“The finished programme was so full of border-crossing artists and cutting edge work, and my own suggestions had been so sympathetically met and rounded out that it still felt not quite real, not quite possible.

“But I’m beginning to think that in Brighton anywhere is possible. This festival means France is possible, New York, Russia, loads of places right across the board – including Inverness.

“Can we invite Julie Fowlis? I asked Laura, the brilliant music programmer, last autumn. Fowlis is a gorgeous singer of Scots Gaelic, brought up in the Hebrides, you don’t get much more northern Scottish than that. Back came the message, Julie Fowlis says yes, so, yes, the northern edge will meet the southern on May 21 when Fowlis will bring her brand of rich and lush folk-northernness to the Brighton Dome Corn Exchange – a night, as it happens, when the singer Benjamin Clementine, who now lives in Paris, a man with an unbelievably beautiful, soulful, deep, gravelly voice, will be over at the Theatre Royal, and the English band with the French name, St Etienne, will bring their acclaimed film How We Used To Live to the Dome Concert Hall accompanied by an eight-piece band playing the live soundtrack.

“England, Scotland and France in a perfect simultaneity – and that’s just one border-crossing evening in a three-week-long festival of them. How to be in three places at once? Let’s say I’ve learned not to underestimate what’s truly possible in Brighton, on its bright edge, at festival time, the borders vanished, the arts everywhere you look, everything on the wing.”

The Brighton Festival includes music, theatre, dance, circus, art, film, literature, debate, outdoor and family events Saturday (2 May) to (Saturday 24 May). For more information visit www.brightonfestival.org.

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