Dancing in the street

Pavements and concert halls alike burst into life at Festival time

Brighton is a fickle place. At once highbrow and lowbrow, it has a way of adapting its identity to fulfill the desires of its visitors. For day-trippers, it can be a clubber's heaven, a romantic retreat or simply a breath of fresh air away from the heaving metropolis. For the Prince Regent it was an extravagant bolt-hole, though for the writer Graham Greene it was synonymous with depravity and crime. Where else can you slurp jellied eels on the beachfront or take afternoon tea at the De Vere Grand, recline on a deck chair on the promenade or go skinny-dipping at the nudist beach, take in Regency architecture or see the latest in cutting edge design? London-on-Sea? It may be a cliché, but it's a fair description. Only 60 miles south of London, Brighton now has everything the capital has to offer, and never more so than in May when the annual Festival roars into life.

Brighton is a fickle place. At once highbrow and lowbrow, it has a way of adapting its identity to fulfill the desires of its visitors. For day-trippers, it can be a clubber's heaven, a romantic retreat or simply a breath of fresh air away from the heaving metropolis. For the Prince Regent it was an extravagant bolt-hole, though for the writer Graham Greene it was synonymous with depravity and crime. Where else can you slurp jellied eels on the beachfront or take afternoon tea at the De Vere Grand, recline on a deck chair on the promenade or go skinny-dipping at the nudist beach, take in Regency architecture or see the latest in cutting edge design? London-on-Sea? It may be a cliché, but it's a fair description. Only 60 miles south of London, Brighton now has everything the capital has to offer, and never more so than in May when the annual Festival roars into life.

Now in its 39th year, Brighton Festival marks the city's reinvention as a cultural Mecca. It is the biggest arts festival in England, drawing performers from all over the world and last year attracting a record 430,000 attendances. This year's festival is bigger than ever, boasting more than 350 dance, theatre, music, art, books and debating events across the city.

Size isn't everything, mind you, and even at its most extravagant, the festival is very much rooted in the local community. Brighton residents are more likely to join in the proceedings as sit back and watch politely. The festival begins in down-to-earth Brighton style on 7 May with the annual Children's Parade. Starting at Sydney Street in the North Laine and finishing at the beachfront, this spectacular procession sees 4,000 little monsters from 70 local schools, all decked out in fancy dress and marching to the beat of two-dozen samba bands and it closes with a family ceilidh held in the Corn Exchange, complete with a chill-out room for the under-eights and a bar for adults.

If there's something that unites Brightonians, it's the pursuit of pleasure, an ethos that is perfectly embodied in the Spiegeltent. One of the original travelling music halls of the Twenties and Thirties (and where Marlene Dietrich famously performed), this decadent mirrored pavilion comes with carved wooden booths, pretty stained glass and sparkling chandeliers and will be pitched on the lawns of Old Steine. Along with the daytime Fringe events, the Spiegeltent will host cabaret saloon acts and late night entertainers as a festival club for all festival ticket holders.

While Brighton Festival has more than its fair share of big names - this year boasts appearances from Alfred Brendel, Tariq Ali, David Starkey, Carol Ann Duffy, Julian Lloyd Webber and Nick Hornby, to name but a few - one of its principal delights is taking pot luck and just seeing where you end up. Join the Open House Artist Trail and chances are you'll find yourself in someone's front room. The perfect antidote to the oppressive silence of art galleries, the trail sees local artists - among them James Lightfoot, Cecil Rice, Darvish Fakhr, Lucy Cookson and John Marshall - opening their homes and flogging their wares from the comfort of their own sofas.

Brighton Festival has always been less about importing great art from elsewhere than tapping into the city's existing resources. Buildings are transformed into works of art and streets hijacked by entertainers. Take a wander past the Town Hall in Bartholomew Square and you'll see the latest kaleidoscopic work from The Miracle Show projected onto the building. Visit the Sea Life centre and watch Jeanette Winterson reading bedtime stories to a tank of turtles. Fans of Sergei Eisenstein's radical tale of Russian mutiny, Battleship Potemkin, will be able to view the film among the steam-powered pistons of Hove's Victorian Engineerium, complete with a contemporary score from the composer Ed Hughes.

Elsewhere in the city's countless venues you can hear Julian Lloyd Webber tackle John Adams' Short Ride In A Fast Machine and the UK premier of Philip Glass's Cello Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, visit an exhibition on the roll of dolls in society at the Brighton Museum, or take a course in fan dancing with the dancer and choreographer Kat Culbert.

Of course, no self-respecting arts festival would be complete without a few glittering premières. In the newly refurbished Brighton Dome the pioneers of physical theatre DV8 will be performing Just For Show, their first work in five years, while Frantic Assembly will premiere the darkly hedonistic Dirty Wonderland amid the decaying grandeur of Saltdean's art deco Grand Ocean Hotel.

The Gardner Arts Centre will be hosting one of the more controversial works in the festival programme with Rodrigo Garcia's The Story of Ronald, The Clown From McDonald's, an anti-capitalist satire which has actors stripping naked and smothering themselves in fast food. The Brighton-based theatre company dreamthinkspeak will also be premiering new work in the bowels of the Theatre Royal. The aptly named Underground promises to lead the audience through backrooms, stairwells and labyrinthine corridors in a unique and possibly rather chilling piece inspired by Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment.

Brighton has long prided itself on its musical credentials so it's no surprise to find both classical and contemporary music well represented this year. Harold Budd, the founding father of ambient music and long-time Brian Eno collaborator will be celebrating his impending retirement in a performance alongside Jah Wobble, Ultravox's John Foxx, the Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie and Bebop Deluxe's Bill Nelson. The producer Bill Laswell will also perform a cross-cultural collaboration with the Ethiopian vocalist Ejigayehu "Gigi" Shibabaw in Abyssinia Infinite. For those of a cooler disposition, the second day of the festival heralds a unique collaboration between dance practitioners The Bays and New York's Burnt Sugar. To quote the brochure "It's improvisation, but not as we know it."

If the thought of all this high art threatens to put you into a coma, however, then there are plenty of other sights and sounds to behold. Much of the city is now pedestrianised and open-air cafés, restaurants and clubs line the streets both in the city centre and the North Laine. Wander down to the beachfront and you'll stumble across all manner of street performers, from sad-eyed fiddlers and pavement politicians to the obligatory jugglers and mime artists. Meanwhile, the Royal Pavilion, the dream palace built by the Prince Regent nearly 200 years ago, remains one of the city's biggest draws. Whether attending classical recitals in its exquisite music room or passing by on their way to the sea, no visitor should miss it.

To understand the true spirit of Brighton Festival is to see how there really is something for everyone. Can't afford to see Chekhov at Brighton Dome? Loiter in the Lanes for a day and you'll see theatre on the streets for nothing.

Brighton Festival runs from 7-29 May. Tickets can be booked at www.brighton-festival.org.uk, on 01273 709709, or at the Brighton Dome Ticket Office, New Road, Brighton (open Monday to Saturday 10am-6pm)

2005 BRIGHTON FESTIVAL: DATES FOR YOUR DIARY

BOOKS AND DEBATE

Pearls of wisdom from Louis de Bernières, Janet Street Porter, Jeanette Winterson, Nick Hornby and others.

£7. Daily, 7-29 May*

FAMILY FRIENDLY

26 Letters

Four-day festival of children's literature.

£5/£3.50. The Old Market, 19-22 May*

Festival Ceilidh

Polkas, waltzes, hornpipes etc.

£8/£3, £18 family. Corn Exchange, Brighton Dome, 29 May, 7pm

Tim Crouch 'I, Banquo'

Shakespeare storytelling for children aged 8+

£6. Pavilion Theatre, Brighton Dome, 26 May, 4.30pm; 27 May, 7.30pm; 29 May, 11.30am

Children's Parade

Fiesta with costumes and dancing.

Free. Procession from Sydney Street to the seafront, 7 May, from 10.30am

DANCE

DV8 Physical Theatre

'Just for Show': a show about showing off.

£22.50/£15. Corn Exchange, Brighton Dome, 7 and 9-11 May, 8pm; 8 May, 7pm

Sydney Dance Company 'Underland'

(Pictured above) High-energy choreography with music by Brighton resident Nick Cave.

£6-£25. Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, 11-12 May, 8pm

Trisha Brown Dance

A trio of exhilarating performances.

£6-£22.50. Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, 28 May, 8pm

Gravity and Levity 'Taking Flight'

Aerial dance and film.

£12.50. Corn Exchange, Brighton Dome, 24-25 May, 8pm

EXHIBITIONS

'Alice'

Illustrations from 'Alice in Wonderland'.

Free. Charleston, Wed-Sun 2-6pm

'Campus'

Mulitmedia exhibition of university architecture.

Free. Gardner Arts Centre

Daily 10am-6pm

'Guys and Dolls'

How dolls represent gender and society.

Free. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. Tues 10am-7pm; Wed-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun 2-5pm

LUNCHTIME CONCERTS

Bitesize events celebrating classical, jazz, world and folk music

£6. Pavilion Theatre, daily, 7-28 May, 1pm*

MUSIC

Abyssinia Infinite

A cross cultural mix of traditional Ethiopian music and modern technology.

£14/£12. Gardner Arts Centre, 14 May, 8pm

Alfred Brendel

The prolific classical pianist performs Schumann.

£10-£40. Glyndebourne, 8 May, 7pm

Battleship Potemkin

The world premiere of Ed Hughes new score for Eistenstein classic (PG).

£16. Engineerium 14 May, 6pm and 9pm

The Bays and Burnt Sugar

Trip hop, funk, blues and jazz improvisation.

£14. Concert Hall, Brighton Dome

8 May, 8pm

BBC Symphony Orchestra

American minimalism and English choral music, with Julian Lloyd Webber.

£6-£26. Concert Hall, Brighton Dome, 26 May, 8pm

Brighton Youth Orchestra

Gershwin, Stravinsky, and a new song cycle by John Paul Jones, Peter Gabriel, Stewart Copeland and Norman Cook.

£15, £10, £5. Concert Hall, Brighton Dome 22 May, 3pm

Christy Moore

One of Ireland's most influential singer/ songwriters.

£28.50/£25. Concert Hall Brighton Dome

23-24 May, 8pm

Cosi Fan Tutte

The English National Opera performs Mozart.

£10-£30. Concert Hall Brighton Dome, 29 May, 6pm

Esbjorn Svensson Trio

One of the most riveting piano, bass and drum trios in jazz.

£6-£16. Concert Hall Brighton Dome, 18 May, 8pm

Harold Budd

Innovative ambient pianist and composer Budd gives his last live peformance.

£18/£16/£14. Concert Hall Brighton Dome,

21 May, 7.30pm

Ibrahim Ferrer

Buena Vista Social Club star Ferrer (right) works his Cuban magic.

£28.50, £25. Concert Hall, 15 May, 8pm

London Symphony Orchestra

Conducted by Richard Hickox, the LSO performs Elgar and Vaughan Williams.

£10-£28.50. Concert Hall Brighton Dome, 7 May, 8pm

Orchestre National De Lille

A celebration of French classical music, including Debussy's La Mer.

£10-£28.50. Concert Hall Brighton Dome, 13 May, 8pm

The Necks

Eclectic ambient jazz and trance from Australia's hottest new export.

£12.50. Pavilion Theatre Brighton Dome, 16 May, 8pm

Stars of Madagascar

A showcase of the best of Malagasy music curated by Dama from Mahaleo.

£14/£12. Gardner Arts Centre, 7 May, 8pm

Tacet Ensemble with The Copper Family

Sussex's first family of folk and the Tacet Ensemble celebrate the vitality of English music.

£12.50/£10. The Old Market 18 May, 7.30pm

1605 Treason and Dischord: The King's Singers and Concordia

Two of the finest interpreters of 17th-century songs mark the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot.

£20/£14. St Nicholas Church, 9 May, 8pm

Vespers by Candlelight

Russian romance.

£15/£12. St. Bartholomew's Church 20 May, 10pm

Music Room Recitals

World-class music in the opulent Royal Pavilion.

£25. Music Room, Royal Pavilion.*

OUTDOOR EVENTS

Street theatre, fireworks and much more. Daytime events are around the North Laine, most evening events are at The Level.

12-14 May, 21 and 29 May.*

THEATRE

Aurelia's Oratorio

Family show inspired by music hall and circus.

£18/£12.50 adults, £8 children. Gardner Arts Centre. 25-28 May, 7.30pm

Frantic Assembly's 'Dirty Wonderland'

Inspired by the hedonistic photography of Nan Goldin.

£15. Grand Ocean Hotel

18-29 May, 5.45pm, 7.30pm and 9pm (no performance 23 May)

Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes

'Provenance': Witty, dark puppetry for adults.

£18/£12.50. Theatre Royal, Brighton, 11 -14 May, 7.30pm

La Carniceria Teatro 'The Story of Ronald, the Clown from McDonald's':

a hilarious assault on capitalism and government hypocrisy.

£18/£12.50. Gardner Arts Centre. 18-21 May, 8pm

zygo

'The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World/The False Corpse':

Double bill about a freak-show performer performed in pitch darkness, plus the story of a maudlin Victorian comedian

£18.50, (2pm & 6pm performances £16, £10)

Theatre Royal, Brighton, 17-18 May, 7.30pm; 19 May, 2pm and 7.30pm; 20-21 May, 6pm and 8.45pm

Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg

'Uncle Vanya': A Chekhov tragi-comedy.

£22.50/£15. Corn Exchange, Brighton

17-21 May, 7.30pm

dreamthinkspeak

'Underground': inspired by Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment'.

£15. Theatre Royal, Brighton. 24-28 May, various times from 6.30pm-9.20pm

*For more information, tickets and full listings, visit www.brighton-festival.org.uk or call 01273 709709.

For information on the Brighton Festival Fringe, which runs concurrently, visit www.brightonfestivalfringe.org.uk

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