Edinburgh International Festival cancels free opening event in Botanics over quarantine rules

The Edinburgh International Festival has been forced to call off a free fire walk curtain-raiser - after the event fell foul of quarantine rules.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 10:36 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 3:39 pm
Compagnie Carabosse were previously brought to Edinburgh for the city's Hogmanay celebrations. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The plug has been pulled on the three-day Night Light event, which was due to attract thousands of festivalgoers to the Royal Botanic Garden, only a fortnight after it was announced.

A group of French artists who were working on the event have been unable to travel to the city to carry out essential planning for the event, which leading Scottish traditional musicians were also due to work on.

Compagnie Carabosse, who previously worked on Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations, were due to create a series of bespoke fire sculptures for a large-scale fire walk.

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Musician Su-a Lee helped launch this year's EIF programme at the Royal Botanic Garden. Picture: Ryan Buchanan

France is currently on the UK Government's amber list for quarantine restrictions. Artist and performers have been unable to secure exemptions to restrictions in the UK since January.

The EIF launched its 2021 programme at the Botanics to tie in with the opening event, which was due to be bankrolled by the Scottish Government and financial giants Aberdeen Standard Investments.

The Botanics is one of several outdoor spaces lined up for this year’s festival, as part of a strategy to ensure the event does not fall victim to Covid restrictions.

Three temporary venues are being created at Edinburgh Park, Edinburgh University’s Old College Quad and Edinburgh Academy Junior School’s playing fields.

An official announcement from the festival said: “Regretfully we have had to cancel the Night Light event scheduled for 6-8 August.

“Without the previously available artists travel exemption from quarantine, it is not logistically feasible for the Carabosse creative team to travel from France to Edinburgh to undertake the necessary preparatory work, which needs to be completed seven weeks before the event itself.“All other events are unaffected by this cancellation and will go ahead as planned.”

An EIF spokesman added: “This event had a unique seven-week deadline to have the artists on-site, in order to develop the creative and logistical plan for the beginning of August.

The festival had been planning on using the Performing Arts Self Isolation Exemption Scotland in order to have Carabosse arrive from France, complete the site-visit under a covid controlled environment and return home to prepare the installations.

“The exemption was initially put in place on 18 December 2020 in Scotland, then on 18 January 2021 it was paused.

“Despite expectations it would be reintroduced - initially proposed for 17 May in England - it has not been. As a result, the festival was forced to cancel the opening event as the required artist travel was not possible due to restrictions.”

Paul Bush, director of events at government agency VisitScotland, said: "Since its inception in 2015, the opening event of the Edinburgh International Festival has captured the imagination of festival goers and opened it up to a whole new audience.

"Despite the best efforts of all involved, it is regrettable the festival is having to cancel this year's Night Light.

"While this will be disappointing to all those who enjoy this event and its role in signalling the start of Edinburgh's August festivals, the wide selection of events across the festival's programme remain unaffected and will reinforce Scotland's reputation as the perfect stage for events."

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