It starts with topless ballet, ends with techno till dawn, and in the middle includes a cruise through the world's sexiest adverts, a show about the science of a city, a tour of the pop art of 1970s Paris, and a chance to meet the directors of the fantastic French Federation of Funk. With its 1998 programme announced this week, the French May festival has come of age. And that age is young, young, young. There are of course 'serious' elements. A string quartet (the Ludwig Quartet, playing at City Hall on May 7 and 8), pianist (Marie-Laure Boulanger) and soprano (Elizabeth Vidal) have all been invited to the month-long party, to satisfy those who need a little Debussy to satisfy them that this is indeed a Festival de Culture. But classical references are kept to a minimum, Ravel gives way to rebel, and this French festival is very much set in the end of the century. In the words of Alliance Francaise director Pierre-Yves Sonalet, the threads linking the elements of the programme are 'that it is fun and it is very sexy'. The Ballet du Nord, which kicks off the festival before May has even turned the calendar page, and promises to be both. The company was created in the mid-1980s and quickly gained a reputation for a risque mix of classical and contemporary repertoire. The programme - running for two nights at City Hall on April 28 and 29 - includes two works by company choreographer Maryse Delente. There is also a short work, Duo d'Eden, by Maguy Marin, whose disturbing and ghostly May B was a dance highlight of the 1995 Hong Kong Arts Festival. 'This programme is a little, aah, provocative,' smiled the organisers mysteriously. The whisper is that the Ballet du Nord will be the Ballet du Semi-Nude. Tickets for this one will go quickly - City Hall is a small venue, and Hong Kong audiences tend to be quick with the credit cards at even the bare hint of culture unclothed. Clothed but very sensual is Raghunath Manet, born in India in the former French colony of Pondicherry, and a veena player, dancer and choreographer. Manet will be treating Hong Kong audiences to the rare sight of a man dancing the male style of Bharata Natyam, an Indian dance form usually danced by women. (City Hall, May 29). A big favourite each year is La Nuit des Publivore (The Night of the Ad-Eaters) which shows five hours of as contemporary short video culture as you could imagine: adverts. It has never become quite the cult it is in Paris, but has a keen following from local ad-munchers. This year might be especially popular: along with the best, worst and funniest TV and movie commercials of the moment, La Nuit (which is actually Les Nuits, as the event runs on May 9 and 10 at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium) includes 90 minutes of 'the sexiest cinema advertising around the world'. 'To our surprise we were only given a IIB censorship rating,' Mr Sonalet joked. 'I think they let us off quite lightly because we're 'cultural'.' The programme promises showings of the shortest-ever commercial (one second), the longest (not, surprisingly, that endless Interwood Marketing rubbish but eight minutes from Philips in 1948) and even some ads from Greenpeace, which is very magnanimous of the French consulate-general. The theme of accessibility runs into this year's French film retrospective as well. The subject is Alain Resnais, one of the most internationally well-known of France's New Wave directors, with all 14 of his features screened at the Arts Centre's Lim Por Yen Theatre. A popular event will be the Hong Kong premiere of his most recent feature, On Connait La Chanson (The Same Old Song), about people with names like Camille and Odille who fall in and out of love. The film won seven Cesars at the French film awards and a Golden Bear at Berlin. (May 5 and 16). Fans will also be able to see Hiroshima Mon Amour (May 9, 18) and the charming Mon Oncle d'Amerique (May 11, 22), as well as catching Resnais' rarely screened documentaries, with themes like Picasso's Guernica and Auschwitz (May 15 and 21). The visual arts element is strong, very contemporary, and giant canvases are certainly an ongoing theme. The two big shows monopolise both of Hong Kong's major museum art spaces. At the Museum of Art from May 5 to June 7 is a major retrospective of the bright and enormous abstract work of Olivier Debre - so far mainly known in Hong Kong for the Cultural Centre curtain. Meanwhile, from May 7 to June 8 both buildings of the Hong Kong University Museum and Art Gallery will be full of images of newspapers and cigarettes and guns in a show called Narrative Figuration. The title promises to be the only hard bit about the show. This is pop art at its Paris best, and the show features around 50 works by the Figuration Narrative movement, which was the European version of Pop Art. Like ads, it has been only recently that the works have been taken seriously in academic circles. Names like Telemque, Erro, Rancillac, Adami: if you don't know them already then this show will put them on the Hong Kong cultural map. The Michel Portal Quartet adds a strong jazz element to the festival with a programme called Mozambique featuring a new composition inspired by the rhythms of Africa (APA May 1), and from May 14 to 16 the Stephane Kochoyan Trio perform at the Jazz Club. But the main music element of French May is even more contemporary - techno, house and funk. Techno Night - dubbed La Nuit Strictly Underground II - is on May 30 from 11pm till dawn. The venue will be arranged later, but DJs are already confirmed as Jef K, Sven Love, and DJ Sonic, whose remixes were used in the movie The Fifth Element. And the French Funk Federation (FFF) gives Afro-American funk a little something of their own at Bar City (May 22). There is also an academic element to the festival, with a major forum at Chinese University on Chinese Ethnography, and a Science Museum Architecture show featuring large models of Shanghai Airport and Chek Lap Kok. And for those who mourn the demise of baguettes, onion strings and bicyclettes as staples of France's self-image-making there is a French Street Market at Hong Kong Park on May 16, with camembert, jugglers and an accordionist playing La Vie en Rose. Finding sponsorship this year has been a challenge. But although the economic troubles have hit companies with French interests as much as anyone else, the consulate-general has managed to get this festival off the ground at an approximate cost of $5 million - plus a lot of goodwill and donations of tickets and hotel rooms. 'It has been difficult, but if you had asked six months ago I should have been more cautious,' said French Consul-General Thierry Dana. The festival opens with a charity dinner at Government House in aid of a new foundation to allow Hong Kong artists and performers to visit France for specific arts projects. Ticket prices are high. 'People told me I was crazy,' Mr Dana said. 'But actually we are overbooked.' His big fear, he said, was to go to a French May event and find that everyone there was French. 'Looking after the French residents of Hong Kong is my job too, but that isn't really what this festival is all about. This festival is for Hong Kong.'