Announcing the Barbican Centre’s 2009-10 season highlights yesterday (11 March 2009), managing director Sir Nicholas Kenyon and artistic director Graham Sheffield emphasised the new policy of looking towards the East End of London in anticipation of the 2012 Olympic Games, and new partnerships with five leading orchestral ensembles.

Theatre highlights in the new bite season will be a new Michael Clark international co-commission based on the music of 1970s rock’s “holy trinity” of David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed (28 October - 7 November), and Roman Tragedies, a six-hour spectacle based on Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, from the Toneelgroep Amsterdam, directed by Ivo van Hove (20-22 November).

Peter Brook will return to the Barbican next year (5-27 February) with 11 and 12, a new play, co-produced with the Bouffes du Nord in Paris and the Grotowski Institute in Poland, based on his own play Tierno Bokar, adapted with Marie-Helene Estienne from Le Sage de Bandiagra by the African writer Amadou Hampate Ba. The play describes the life and teachings of the real-life Sufi sage, Tierno Bokar.

This autumn and next spring sees an extensive celebration of Polish culture in Britain, and the Barbican will present Teatr ZAR from the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw in a triptych Gospels of Childhood, Caesarean Section and Anhelli, the three parts played out on one evening with the audience walking from St Giles Church to the Pit and back again (24 September-2 October). Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis will be performed by TR Warszawa (23-27 March).

For Halloween, the Barbican brings back Yorkshire-based theatre company Slung Low in They Only Come at Night: Visions, an installation in Car Park 2 at the Barbican Centre (30 October-15 November). This promenade performance will combine dance, music and digital projection on vampire and gothic themes. “We leave no concrete stone unturned,” said Graham Sheffield, in the Centre’s pursuit of excellence and controversy.

Sir Nicholas reported £1.2m in ticket sales last year, and an increase of ten percent on last year already so far this season. As already announced, he welcomed back “our key artistic partner” the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, whose hip-hop musical Pied Piper will be this year’s Christmas show. He said that “in challenging times for all of us, audiences will gravitate towards quality,” and it was for this reason that he was proud that at the Barbican “we do something different, and go that extra mile.”

- by Michael Coveney