Edinburgh elite: Who's going to be the talk of the biggest arts festival in the world next month?

We take a peek in the little black books of The Independent on Sunday critics
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What better reason to visit the festival than a juicy new show from Matthew Bourne – and especially one that, like his 1995 production Swan Lake, will appeal to dance virgins and aficionados alike. Dorian Gray is adapted from the Oscar Wilde fable about a vain young beau who makes a pact with the devil in a bid to keep his looks. Bourne relocates the story to London's contemporary art scene: image-obsessed, youth-fixated and ripe for corruption (King's Theatre, 22-30 Aug).

Ohad Naharin's choreographic shtick isn't storytelling, it's energy: an explosion of colour, movement and sound that embraces rock to hip-hop to Middle Eastern folk. Deca Dance 2008 (The Playhouse, 28-30 Aug) features 10 scenes from his most celebrated works for Batsheva, the Tel Aviv-based company.

The Whirling Dervishes of Turkey might sound like a dodgy cabaret act, but by all accounts this evening of sufi poetry and music is the real thing (Festival Theatre, 29 & 30 Aug).

Classical tastes are catered for by the State Ballet of Georgia, headed by ex-Bolshoi ballerina Nina Ananiashvili. She launches the festival dance strand with her very grand production of Giselle. Two performances by Ananiashvili herself are promised (Playhouse, 9 & 10 Aug). Box office for all events is 0131 473 2000

Name to watch

Alexei Ratmansky is slated to take over New York City Ballet – Georgia's mixed bill (12 & 13 Aug) includes a new work of his. Jenny Gilbert


The best comedians at the Fringe are usually the ones you hadn't heard of a week earlier. But however many discoveries you make, here are five comics who are always worth investigating. Michael McIntyre is the most unforced and genial of stand-ups, as seen giggling infectiously at his own jokes on Have I Got News For You and The Apprentice: You're Fired. Rhod Gilbert combines surrealism with gloominess: he tells us about the imaginary world he's created, and then complains about how boring it is. Tim Vine (Pleasance, 30 July- 16 Aug), possibly best known as Jeremy's brother and Lee Mack's sidekick, is a jaunty entertainer who fires out more puns per minute than any comedian in history. Alex Horne is a loveable crackpot whose latest harebrained show concerns his quest to introduce a new word to the English language. And Jerry Sadowitz (Udderbelly, 31 July-25 Aug) is the self-styled "comedian, magician and psychopath" whose bad-taste material is almost as unbelievable as his conjuring tricks. All shows: Pleasance, 30 July-25 Aug, except where specified, 0131 556 6550.

Name to watch

John Bishop (Pleasance, 30 July-24 Aug) only turned pro in 2006, but, like Frank Skinner, has the air of a late starter who's all the better for it. Nicholas Barber


Wild and mournful, borrowed or faked, the folk songs of Central Europe pervade this year's programme. First Scottish Opera presents Smetana's wistful comedy The Two Widows

(Festival Theatre, 9, 11 & 12 Aug), then the Belcea Quartet play all six of Bartók's bleak and beautiful string quartets (Queen's Hall, 15 & 16 Aug). Named after the Czech composer murdered in Auschwitz, the Pavel Haas Quartet play Haas's String Quartet No 3 and Janácek's Intimate Letters (Queen's Hall, 22 Aug). Hungarian conductor Ivá*Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra play Brahms, Bartók and Dvorák (Usher Hall, 23 & 25 Aug). Valéry Gergiev conducts the LSO in Prokofiev's Complete Symphonies (Usher Hall, 15-17 Aug), then returns with the Mariinsky Opera for Szymanowski's King Roger (Festival Theatre, 25 & 27 Aug), and the UK première of Rodion Shchedrin's The Enchanted Wanderer (Festival Theatre, 26 Aug). Box office for all events is 0131 473 2000

Name to watch

Neither young nor a newcomer, but 77-year-old pianist Alfred Brendel, whose recital of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert will be his last in Scotland (Usher Hall, August 21). Anna Picard


The Traverse Theatre offers Pornography (28 Jul-23 Aug). Written by Simon Stephens, of Harper Regan renown, this focuses on the shocking week in 2005 when London went from winning the Olympic bid to 7/7. At the same venue, directed by Mick Gordon, Deep Cut investigates the mysterious deaths of young soldiers at Deepcut Barracks (31 Jul-4 Aug). Most enticing in the International Festival is the National Theatre of Scotland's new David Harrower drama, 365: One Night to Learn a Lifetime (Edinburgh Playhouse, 22-25 Aug, 0131 473 2000). Placed in a "practice flat", care-home teenagers try to make it in the outside world. Alternatively, The Tell-Tale Heart is a macabre monologue by a crazed murderer, adapted from an Edgar Allan Poe tale by the avant-gardist Barry Kosky (Royal Lyceum, 9-11 Aug, 0131 473 2000). In a sillier vein, there's Bouncy Castle Dracula (Rocket at Demarco Roxy Art House, 31 Jul-25 Aug) – but inflatables and fangs might make for a dangerous combination... Box office for all events (except where specified) is 0131 226 0000.

Name to watch

Scottish actor Ryan Fletcher shone in the NTS hit Wolves in the Walls and now plays a care-home kid in 365. Kate Bassett


The new kid on the festival block, the Edinburgh Art Festival has won itself a reputation for nifty curating and stylish shows. This year's include Killing Machine, the robotic re-enactment ofa US execution by lethal injection, from Canadian duo Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller (Fruitmarket Gallery, 0131 225 2383). Up Carlton Hill, Mark Wallinger's new billboard piece, will probably offer something a bit cheerier (Ingleby Gallery, 0131 556 4441), while fans of Her Traciness can gorge themselves at a full-scale Emin retrospective (National Gallery of Modern Art, 0131 624 6200). The prize for most puzzling show is sure to go to local boy Andrew Grassie (Talbot Rice Gallery,0131 650 2210), who paints paintings about painting his paintings. The more classically minded may prefer the National Gallery's Impressionism and Scotland, featuring such well-known Scotsmen as Corot and Monet. (Oh, and the Colourists.)

Name to watch

As ever, the one to look out for is distinctly off-Broadway, namely the recreation of mad New York painter Sanford Wurmfeld's E-Cyclorama (Edinburgh College of Art, 0131 221 6000) – a 9ft-high abstract drum in which visitors will be asked to stand. Groovy. Charles Darwent

Pop and rock

The pop and rock element of the Edinburgh Fringe has been a growing presence in recent years, and 2008 is no exception. The first significant action is at Cabaret Voltaire on 3 Aug, with Mancunian epic rockers Longview launching the Edge Festival sub-strand. Nouvelle Vague, the French lounge-jazz act specialising in new wave and alt-rock cover versions, play the Liquid Rooms on 7 & 8 Aug. The Presets, Australian purveyors of dark electro pop, play Cabaret Voltaire on 12 Aug. At the same venue, Throwing Muses leade`will read extracts from her book Paradoxical Undressing (13 Aug) and perform songs from her two solo albums. And San Diego sleaze-rockers Louis XIV continue their comeback (Cabaret Voltaire, 18 Aug). In what is arguably the highlight of the season, Santogold – aka Santi White, genre-mashing mate of Björk and Pharrell – plays the Liquid Rooms on 19 Aug. The same venue hosts conscious hip-hop from Michael Franti & Spearhead (20 Aug), plus high-speed rhyme'n'grime from recent chart-topper Dizzee Rascal (21 Aug). (Oh, and if you're in Edinburgh today, and very lucky, you might beg, borrow or steal a ticket to one of Tom Waits's two concerts (Playhouse, tonight and tomorrow.) Box office for all events is 0131 226 0000.

Name to watch

Clare and the Reasons, aka Brooklyn-based, vintage-sounding singer-songwriter Clare Muldaur, who will wrap things up for this year at Cabaret Voltaire (25 Aug). Simon Price

The Edinburgh International Festival, 8-31 Aug, www.eif.co.uk; The Edinburgh Fringe, 3-25 Aug, www.edfringe.com