Brighton Festival 2015 - with award-wining author Ali Smith at the helm as Guest Director - came to a soaring conclusion this weekend.
Over the three-week Festival - the biggest and most established in England - many of Ali Smith’s ideas, interests and passions were explored in a thrilling selection of events which spanned music, theatre, dance, visual art, film, literature and debate featuring artists and performers the world over from Ukrainian ‘ethnic chaos’ band DakhaBrakha to the newly Palme d’Or honoured filmmaker Agnès Varda.
Three central themes - Art and Nature, the Crossing Places between art forms, and Taking Liberty - provided a fascinating jumping off point to explore some of the key ideas and issues of the moment as well as a memorable visual image of a swift in flight which proved a fitting and popular emblem for the 2015 Festival.
The opening weekend asked audiences to ‘take flight’ for the annual children’s parade, the largest of its kind in Europe. Supported by regional businesses Class of their Own, Gatwick Airport and Riverford, the annual parade traditionally marks the start of Brighton Festival and was attended by almost 5,000 children from 83 schools and community groups from across the region; each dressed in costumes they had specifically designed and made for the event. Taking inspiration from Brighton Festival 2015 Guest Director Ali Smith’s deep fascination with birds and other migratory patterns, costumes included bird life in all its forms as well as flying machines, creatures from fantasy and fable, bugs, bees and butterflies.
The Children's Parade. Photo by Jordan Hughes
During the ensuing 23 days it wasn’t just the kids who took flight – with more reviews praising the artistic excellence of this year’s programme than ever. One of the Festival’s biggest hits was the European premiere of Tony award-winning playwright Richard Nelson’s highly acclaimed four play cycle The Apple Family Plays from The Public Theater, New York which was lavished with 5 stars across the board. Glowing reviews in The Guardian, The Stage and the artsdesk amongst others described them as “exemplary”, “extraordinary”, “profound” and “faultlessly directed”. This was swiftly followed by the top accolade going to violinist Isabelle Faust’s amazing feat of solo virtuosity, Paine’s Plough’s poignant exploration of love and relationships in Lungs and Nina Conti’s extraordinary tour de force of improvised comedy amongst others.
Fleeting on Brighton Beach. Photo by Chris Bethall
At just under 400 performances across 150 events, including 34 that were entirely free to the public, Brighton Festival 2015 featured the highest number of exclusives, premieres and commissions to date including a sizeable proportion of events that cannot - and could not - be experienced anywhere else outside of Brighton Festival, from Sam Lee’s intimate Nightingale Walks on the Downs to Laurie Anderson’s one-off concert All the Animals and Festival finale Fleeting, the spectacular installation over the West Pier by And Now in which hundreds of individual points of fire created shapes and swathes of glowing light and shade.
In a continuation of the Festival’s dedication to making the arts accessible for all, 2015 saw a plethora of shows - including high profile events such as physical theatre show The Spalding Suite which takes as its subject the UK's basketball sub-culture and Jess Thom’s inspiring and uplifting exploration of her experience of living with Tourette’s, Backstage in Biscuit Land - live-streamed to audiences around the world, for free. Brighton Festival also reached out beyond the centre more than ever before, working with Without Walls to present a number of family-friendly performances in Saltdean and Woodingdean for the first time as well as the enthralling 451 at Preston Barracks and playful Ear Trumpet in Queen’s Park. This was complemented by a fantastic response to community driven events such as a new children’s birdwatching trail which was generously embraced by the business community, and the return of the Guest Director’s Guests, the Peacock Poetry Prize and the Young City Reads schemes.
Backstage in Biscuit Land. Photo by Victor Frankowski
Other Festival highlights included a one off live screening of Peter Strickland’s daring masterpiece The Duke of Burgundy; the English premiere of Vanishing Point & National Theatre of Scotland’s The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, a homage to one of Scotland's most likeable, most individual and most unexpected 20th century figures; a new lecture specially commissioned for Brighton Festival by acclaimed author Jeanette Winterson OBE on the practices and craft of writing; and the UK premiere of The Forgotten / L’Oublié(e), the directorial debut of Raphaëlle Boitel, one of the most remarkable performers on the European visual and physical theatre scene.
Brighton Festival 2015 featured 396 performances across 150 events including 45 exclusives, premieres and commissions and 34 free events.
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival says: “From the 5 stars across-the-board success of Richard Nelson’s extraordinary Apple Family Plays to the headline-grabbing performance of Kate Tempest and a very special personal appearance by newly Palme D’Or honoured Agnes Varda - this year really has been a Festival to remember. Ali Smith, as Guest Director, has been an absolute pleasure to work with and a wonderful inspiration to us all. Her remarkable sense of possibility, wonder, imagination and excitement at anything that she encounters has been evident every step of the way, from her invaluable input during the programming process to her lively and engaging presence throughout the month. The Festival’s continued ability to not only bring such an eclectic range of artists onto one bill but to make it a resounding success, is testament to the extraordinary support we have from funders, sponsors and from audiences themselves. It’s an exciting time for Brighton Festival as we look towards our 50th birthday next year. I cannot wait to lift the lid on what surprises we have in store for the city and beyond.”