The Barbican's first annual international theatre event, BITE:98, will open at the Barbican Centre this May, offering what is claimed to be "the widest range of international performance, dance, drama and musical theatre ever to be presented under one roof." The schedule will include 14 UK premieres and 4 London premieres.
Running through October 1998 in the Barbican and Pit Theatre, with special events in the Centre's Sculpture Court, BITE:98 focuses largely on America, running in conjunction with the Centre's £3m, year-long celebration of Stateside culture, the Inventing America Festival. Additional performances will come from Russian, Japanese, Romanian and British artists.
The Barbican plans to establish BITE as a permanent, annual fixture on the Centre's calendar, running during the Royal Shakespeare Company's six-month leave of its Barbican residency.
The RSC's decision two years ago to curtail its London season presented a challenge - how to fill the 22-week programming schedule? Barbican arts director Graham Sheffield recalls, "The easiest option would have been to hand over the drama activity to an outside company. But we decided not to do that. We wanted a programme that was diverse, distinctive and exciting and to bring to London major international production of the kind rarely, if ever, seen in the UK." Sheffield says the emphasis for BITE:98 will be on new collaboration, unique dramatic directions and familiar names, many of whom will be lured back to London after a gap of several years.
Texan director-designer Robert Wilson collaborates with British physical theatre impresario Philip Glass in the opening production at the Barbican Theatre on 19 May in a new work titled Monsters of Grace. Other highlights include Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, in its first London engagement in nine years, staging The Man Who Came To Dinner. The production, with a cast led by Frasier star John Mahoney, opens on 16 July. From 10 September, leading American director Peter Sellars directs the first Western showing of the 16th century Chinese epic drama Peony Pavillion in the genre of Kun opera with music composed by Tan Dun.
Specially commissioned one-act plays and monologues dominate The Pit programme. The schedule in this venue begins on 20 May with Love's Fire, a reflection on love and romance as inspired by Shakespeare's sonnets. Other features include a range of one-act plays from contemporary US playwrights, including Eric Bogosian, William Finn, John Guare, Tony Kushner, Marsha Norman, Ntozake Shange and Wendy Wasserstein.
The Barbican Centre recently completed a £1.9 million refurbishment, funded by the Corporation of London, which sees it fit and flexible enough for opera, drama and dance with two fully mechanised orchestra pits, a portable sprung floor for dance, an accoustic enhancement system, extended flying facilities and an adjustable proscenium.