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Edinburgh"s eastern flavour

Guardian Culture 15th November 2010

Opera, ballet and classical music from China and other Asian countries will dominate next year's event, say organisers

A "heady and intoxicating" season of opera, ballet and classical music from some of Asia's most acclaimed companies will dominate next year's Edinburgh international festival.

Audiences will see a Chinese national ballet production of Peony Pavilion, the 500-year-old Chinese love story likened to Romeo and Juliet, an adaptation of Hamlet by the Shanghai Peking opera troupe and a modern Vietnamese ballet on the human cost of war.

The programme will also feature work from India, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, and performances by western artists influenced by eastern traditions and techniques, said festival director Jonathan Mills.

He said these productions would take "audiences on a journey to immerse themselves in the beauty, traditions and distinctive philosophies of Asian cultures both ancient and modern".

He added: "Festival 2011 is no mere history lesson, it will be a heady three weeks of exquisite artistic exploration which I hope will intoxicate audiences."

These debuts in Edinburgh by several of China's most prestigious arts companies have highlighted the increasing political significance of trade and diplomatic links with China for institutions such as the festival.

Mills said the Chinese national ballet and Shanghai Peking opera productions were made possible by "substantial" financial support from China's government, which last week hosted a major UK trade mission led by David Cameron.

Festival officials said that, coincidentally, Mills is in China as a guest of the country's culture ministry to give lectures on the importance of arts festivals for medium-sized cities, and to support a VisitBritain mission to boost Chinese tourism to the UK.

Visits by Chinese tourists are expected to double by 2014, and Mills hopes that visitors to the London Olympics in 2012 and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 will be persuaded to detour to see the Edinburgh festivals. These links underscore Mills' increasing reliance on foreign sources to fund his programme as UK arts organisations face increasingly tight public and private sector spending.

The 2010 festival received £4.7m in grants from domestic sources, but shows were also funded by Australian, German, Spanish and Mexican partners.

After bankrolling an unparalleled increase in subsidies to the festivals since 2007, the Scottish finance secretary John Swinney is expected to unveil cuts of at least 10% in direct support for the arts when he announces the Scottish government's budget this week.

The full Edinburgh festival programme will be announced in March.

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