Edinburgh International Festival begins at Speed of Light

Hundreds of runners are putting on a light show on Edinburgh's Arthur's Seat for the cultural Olympiad of London 2012

An open-air light show involving hundreds of runners in special LED suits is the opening event of the Edinburgh International Festival.

The 66th festival kicks off with Speed of Light, which sees volunteers running around Arthur's Seat, the landmark hill close to the city centre, in the dark.

The festival's opening concert at the Usher Hall will take place on Friday.

Its three-week run will also include major shows at the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston.

NVA's Speed of Light, which begins on Thursday night, is one of the most anticipated shows in Edinburgh.

About 200 runners in light suits will form shapes and streams of light in the peaks and valleys of Arthur's Seat and Salisbury Crags, as they follow choreographed routines in the dark.

Start Quote

You don't get the chance to put on a light suit and pretend to be in a science fiction film very often”

End Quote Angus Farquhar NVA's creative director

An audience of 800 walkers with specially-designed light sticks will climb the steep western edge of the hill accompanied by a soundtrack.

The event is part of the London 2012 Festival which is the artistic element of the Olympics.

NVA's creative director Angus Farquhar said he wanted to "re-invoke the Olympic spirit of co-operation as well as competition".

He told BBC Scotland: "The Olympics have surprised everyone by how good it has made people feel."

Mr Farquhar said: "Running is a very individual pursuit. This is a chance to bring runners together and have a collective experience.

"You don't get the chance to put on a light suit and pretend to be in a science fiction film very often."

Mr Farquhar said Arthur's Seat was one of Scotland "most iconic landscapes".

speed of light NVA’s Speed of Light is part of the London 2012 Festival

He said the runners would wear "beautiful" hand-designed suits which were remote-controlled so that pulses of light and colour could be formed as they moved around the hill in patterns which have been rehearsed with a Hollywood choreographer.

Sandy Brindley is one of a team of run-leaders who will lead the other volunteers around the dark hillside.

She said: "I have been on this hill quite a few Sundays and evenings just to practise the choreography.

"As a run-leader you are responsible to see the runners are ok and they are going the right way."

Festival director Jonathan Mills said: "It brings sport and science and art and environmental sculpture all together in one big celebration of community.

"There are Olympian elements to the Edinburgh Festival every year but I think, especially, we are scaling the heights in 2012."

The main Edinburgh International Festival begins on Friday with a concert at the Usher Hall.

Theatre du Soleil's Les Naufragés Du Fol Espoir is one of the major productions Theatre du Soleil's Les Naufragés Du Fol Espoir is a major production

The festival, which runs until 2 September, will include performances of dance, opera, music and theatre.

The programme will involve performances by almost 3,000 artists from 47 nations.

The massive "warehouse" Lowland Hall space at Ingliston, which is normally used for agricultural events, will stage three productions which were deemed too big for the conventional theatres used by the festival.

The centre, which is close to Edinburgh Airport and about eight miles from the city centre, will be transformed to stage a powerful new Polish production of Macbeth set in the Middle East.

It will also house a "subversive" take on My Fair Lady by Swiss director Christoph Marthaler and a four-hour epic based on a Jules Verne short story by French director Ariane Mnouchkine and her Theatre du Soleil.

A new production of Gulliver's Travels produced in collaboration with Irish musician and composer Shaun Davey will get its premiere in the festival and violinist Nicola Benedetti will join the London Symphony Orchestra at the Usher Hall as they perform the complete Szymanowski and Brahms symphonies.

Other highlights include morning music sessions at the Queen's Hall, as well as four performances of Prokofiev's Cinderella by the Mariinsky Ballet and orchestra.

Elsewhere there is a new staging of Electra by the Japanese theatre director Tadashi Suzuki - his first visit to the UK in three decades.

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Edinburgh Festivals 2012

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