Manchester International Festival announces full programme

Manchester International Festival (MIF) launched its 2019 programme in full yesterday (7 March). Taking place from 4-21 July, MIF2019 will present 20 world premieres this summer, combining international talent of all ages with projects that explore artistic practice, local history, culture, politics and world events.

The biennial festival held its first edition in 2007 under the artistic direction of Alex Poots, with artists like comedian Johnny Vegas and iconic band The Fall, it has since presented groundbreaking works by Marina Abramović, Zaha Hadid, Damon Albarn and Rufus Wainwright, and brought Hollywood icons Willem Dafoe and Kenneth Branagh to Manchester.

MIF2019 is headed up by artistic director and chief executive John McGrath, who took over from Poots who departed to launch The Shed in New York.

McGrath’s bold MIF2019 programme demonstrates a commitment to world voices and young talent – the lineup is urban, modern, interesting and a combination of accessible yet challenging genre-defying pieces. Youth grabbing names on the bill include Skepta’s DYSTOPIA987 and a new collaboration between Brooklyn’s Reggie ‘Regg Roc’ Gray (FlexN Manchester at MIF15) and Manchester-based spoken word collective Young Identity; as well as a new iteration of Karl Hyde’s MIF17 hit Manchester Street Poem; and a series of intimate discussions and public debates under the banner of Interdependence, the ideas strand of MIF’s public programme.

Idris Elba with Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre © David Sandison
Idris Elba with Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre © David Sandison

Three headliner shows were announced in 2018: Yoko Ono’s participatory work Bells for Peace; a new choreography from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui titled Invisible Cities; and Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s collaboration Tree, which looks at the life story of Nelson Mandela.

Speaking at the launch, McGrath said: “Thousands of people will come together to sing Bells for Peace, [to be delivered] on an extraordinary scale even for Yoko. A joyful response to our complicated times, it [is] …a unique opportunity to take part in a living artwork.

He added: “This year’s festival sees a number of artistic legends come to Manchester and we are delighted to be premiering Tao of Glass. a major new work by Philip Glass, one of our greatest living composers, in collaboration with Manchester director Phelim McDermott.”

New announcements on the day included a two-part commission from composer Emily Howard and poet Michael Symmons Roberts that will explore the Peterloo Massacre; a David Lynch venue takeover at HOME comprising an exhibition and screenings; and a language laboratory curated by novelist Adam Thirlwell, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and architect Rem Koolhaas that will include new pieces from Japanese writer Sayaka Murata and Icelandic poet Sjón.

Queens of the Electronic Underground Aïsha Devi © Emile Barret
Queens of the Electronic Underground Aïsha Devi © Emile Barret

An exciting all-female lineup of electronic artists is being curated by BBC DJ Mary Anne Hobbs, featuring Janelle Monáe, Abida Parveen, Aïsha Devi and Chrysta Bell. Meanwhile British actress Maxine Peake and director Sarah Frankcom will bring to the stage the life of iconic singer and actress Nico, in a cocreation with Royal Exchange Theatre.

Said McGrath: “The Nico Project tells the story of the iconic musician famous for her part in Andy Warhol’s factory and Velvet Underground, she lived here in Manchester for the last decade of her life.”

Elaborating on the production, Peake added: “It is not just about Nico but about what it means to be female and what it means to be a female artist and it is also a celebration of her time in Manchester.”

Multidisciplinary artist Laurie Anderson will present To The Moon, an expanded virtual reality work she is developing with the artist Hsin-Chien Huang.

“At MIF19 we see a whole host of artists looking to the future – some with hope, some with imagination and some with concern,” said McGrath. “We never impose themes on the artists we work with, but it’s striking how this year’s programme reflects our complicated times in often surprisingly joyous and unexpected ways.”

Major names from the world of theatre and classical music will make an appearance. Director Ivo van Hove brings his International Theater Amsterdam ensemble to perform an adaptation of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, while Mark Elder will lead the Hallé Orchestra in Shostakovich’s Symphony No 7.

Continuing in this edition is My Festival, MIF’s year-round creative engagement programme of activity. Part of which is Festival in My House, a series of micro international festivals curated by local people and hosted in their own homes. My Festival provides bursaries for up-and-coming Greater Manchester-based artists supported by Jerwood Arts, and Breathe, a programme blending dance and spoken word for local young people.

Laurie Anderson at The Factory © Tarnish Vision
Laurie Anderson at The Factory © Tarnish Vision