Since he became artistic director of the the Edinburgh International Festival in 2007, Jonathan Mills has built his programmes on a governing theme. Over the years, his line-up of music, opera, theatre and dance has explored topics such as the Scottish Enlightenment, the discovery of the New World and the mysteries of the Far East. Never a man to be second guessed, however, Mills is taking a different tack with his programme for 2012.
Rather than focus on a single idea, he has cast his net more widely. There is no unifying thread this time, although much of it is underpinned by the values enshrined in the Olympic Games. The closing weekend of the London Olympics happens to be the same time as the opening weekend of the Edinburgh International Festival, and both events are proud to celebrate elite human achievement. Where one showcases sporting prowess, the other puts the spotlight on artistic excellence.
In 2012, Mills is going one step further by considering some of the founding Olympic principles. The theme is not as pervasive as in some years, but you will find the idea of truce and international cooperation, for example, in aspects of the programme. You'll also come across some consideration about the nature of Britishness and the common values that bind the countries of the United Kingdom.
The clearest response to the Olympic Games comes in the form of Speed of Light, an extraordinary piece of choreographed athletics on the slopes of Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh's iconic mountain. Every evening, hundreds of runners, whose kinetic energy will power their own light-emitting suits, will criss-cross the paths beneath Salisbury Crags to create a scintillating piece of choreography generated by sheer human effort. "The act of running illuminates the landscape," says the show's director Angus Farquhar of Glasgow's NVA. "It's a celebration of hill running and endurance running. It's about intentional movement made manifest as energy through light."
For a taste of Britishness, have a look at the schedule for the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, which brings the festival to a close. Accompanying a thrilling pyrotechnic display above Edinburgh Castle will be the Scottish National Orchestra playing Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams and the score to Laurence Olivier's patriotic 1944 film adaptation of Shakespeare's Henry V by William Walton.
The Edinburgh International Festival, however, is an outward-looking event and one of its great strengths is its ability to attract major names from around the world. Look across the line-up at the Usher Hall, for example, and you'll see formidable talents such as the Cleveland Orchestra, the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. These and other international names sit comfortably alongside major home-grown companies such as Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and Opera North at the Usher Hall and the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
You may regard Shakespeare as the very archetype of Britishness, but this is a programme that demonstrates his global resonance. As well as the RSC staging The Rape of Lucrece, starring singer Camille O'Sullivan, you can see Polish director Grzegorz Jarzyna give a spectacular rendition of Macbeth filtered through the modern-day experience of war in the Middle East. From Russia, Dmitry Krymov stages a version of A Midsummer Night's Dream that promises to be just as spectacular, while you can also hear Roger Norrington conducting Mendelssohn's incidental music to the same play in a Scottish Chamber Orchestra performance at the Usher Hall.
Other highlights include a rare visit from Ariane Mnouchkine's celebrated Parisian company Théâtre du Soleil with Les Naufragés du Foli Espoir, a large-scale, high-seas epic loosely based on a posthumous novel by Jules Verne. Look out too for Scotland's Vanishing Point, Romania's Silviu Purcarete, the Mariinsky Ballet .
The list of incredible theatre, dance and opera is extensive- wo be sure not to miss out.
Edinburgh International Festival, 9 August–2 September, www.eif.co.uk
Tickets on sale 24th March 2012