When I interviewed Kristy Edmunds last week, she confessed to being like a kid on Christmas Eve.

I feel like I’ve just bought someone a really, really great present and you are really excited and you can’t let them open it earlier but if you had your way you would, she says.

The present that she so desperately wanted unwrapped was the program of the 2005 Melbourne Festival, her first as festival director.

Edmunds took over from festival diva Robyn Archer, who last year finished up three highly successful years at the helm of Melbourne’s cultural showcase. She is understandably nervous stepping into Archer’s shoes, whom she describes as one of the best festival directors in the world. But Edmunds has plenty of her own runs on the board and the breadth and sparkle of her first program shows that she is a worthy peer of her predecessor.

Before landing in Melbourne Edmunds was the founding director of the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art where she has been acclaimed for pursuing an exciting and sometimes controversial agenda. She brought artists at the centre of the fundamentalist culture wars, like gay performance artist Tim Miller, to Portland.

I felt that people had an absolute right to see the work of the artists that had gotten our federal government so agitated, rather than just reading about it, she says quite simply.

When asked for her highlight picks of her first Melbourne program she cheekily says with a deep laugh: Every single one! And the closer you look at the program, the closer you realise that this might not just be boosterism.

Philip Glass, Diamanda Gal? Shen Wei Dancers, and Stephen Petronio Dancers are a few of the names that immediately jump out of the packed two-week program.

The undisputed coup is the world premiere Le Dernier Caravans?il by French theatrical legend Ariane Mnouchkine. The piece is about the global odyssey of refugees and was inspired by Mnouchkine’s last visit to Australia at the height of the Tampa controversy.

She’s made an incredible epic work, Edmonds says.

The actors are all on trolleys so their feet never touch the ground and that metaphor is just exquisite -¦ the piece doesn’t lay judgment at the feet of anything. It makes human the conditions and the context of refugee communities all over the world -¦ it’s so poignant and humane.

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The Melbourne Festival runs from 6 to 22 October. More details at www.melbournefestival.com.au.

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