WHAT? No Damon Albarn? No Bjork? No Mr Tumble? Pah. It’s almost as though Manchester International Festival (MIF) has an entirely new artistic direction…
The artists in our 2017 programme have a lot to say about the times we live in - John McGrath
Ah, it says here that, in fact, it does.
John McGrath, a former director of Manchester’s Contact Theatre and National Theatre Wales, has assumed the mantle of MIF Artistic Director following the departure of founder Alex Poots, who, having built the festival from the ground up in 2007 to become the ‘most radical and important arts festival today’ (The New Yorker, 2013), has taken on a cushty new role at the Culture Shed in New York.
READ: What Has Alex Poots Ever Done For Me?
And many regard McGrath’s appointment as a sea change for the biennial festival, which, despite transforming the city’s reputation on the global cultural circuit, with ground-breaking new works by the likes of Marina Abramovic, Steve McQueen, and, er, Snoop Dogg, has nonetheless drawn criticism from certain quarters of Manchester’s artistic community who believe the festival should be doing more to appeal to local audiences and support regional arts bodies.
MIF's new artistic director, John McGrath
Step up Mr McGrath, who has swiftly established the My Festival community participation programme; a new initiative to help bridge the gap between the festival and local artists and communities. The first project, Festival In My House, will see a series of pilot MIF events curated by local folk and staged in their own houses. Cosy.
Elsewhere, local residents will be asked to take to a walkway in Piccadilly Gardens for a 'uniquely Mancunian self-portrait' as part of What Is The City But The People?, created by the 'People of Manchester' from an idea by Turner Prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller - who returns to MIF following the success of Procession in 2009 and his recent live, nationwide Battle of the Somme commemoration, #WeAreHere.
McGrath has also eschewed the usual early round of big blockbuster name commissions - which last year featured the likes of Professor Brian Cox, superstar DJ Jamie xx and American virtual reality genius, Rony Abovitz – in favour of a raft of lesser known (to us at least) contributors, including Israeli artist Yael Bartana, French choreographer Boris Charmatz, and Frantic Assembly director Scott Graham.
Piccadilly Gardens will form the backdrop to 'What Is The City But The People?'
McGrath said: "It’s exciting to be announcing our first four commissions and events for MIF17, with 20 more still to come.
"As a Festival of new work, MIF is uniquely able to respond to our changing world. The artists in our 2017 programme have a lot to say about the times we live in – and they’re responding in unexpected ways, from reimagining Dr Strangelove to creating a huge fashion runway in Piccadilly Gardens.
"MIF has always been and will remain fiercely international, inviting major artists such as Boris Charmatz and Yael Bartana to create new work. We’re also proudly engaged in our city: My Festival, our new initiative, will provide a range of new ways for local artists and communities to be part of what we do, year-round.
"As the incoming Artistic Director, I’m thrilled to be part of MIF’s extraordinary creative ambition, and I look forward to sharing more of our plans in the months ahead.’
MIF17 takes place from 29 June to 16 July. Here are the first four commissions:
WHAT IF WOMEN RULED THE WORLD?
Where/when: 'A city centre space', dates to be announced
'This vital and dramatic new work addresses the most urgent question of the current moment. Taking Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove as a provocation, the film’s final scene of a surviving nucleus of male leaders repopulating the earth is the inspiration to imagine a reverse scenario: what if women ruled the world?
'Each night, a group of ten women and one man will be confronted by some of the urgent crises of our time: climate change, military escalation, mass migration. In this brand new work created by artist Yael Bartana, with the performance directed by Royal Court Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone, a professional cast will be joined by a group of female experts: scientists, politicians, artists and thinkers of global reputation. Together, they’ll spend the evening trying to solve that night’s global emergency as the clock ticks above them…'
Where/when: 'a city centre space', 13-15 July
'Boris Charmatz, one of Europe’s greatest dance makers, reveals his newest work in a special pre-premiere in Manchester. Celebrated for his radical and experimental approach to contemporary dance, 10000 Gestures sees Charmatz take over a found space in the city centre for this joyful, provocative piece in which the 25-strong ensemble dance without ever repeating a single movement.'
Danse de Nuit by Boris Charmatz (credit: Boris Brussey)
WHAT IS THE CITY BUT THE PEOPLE?
Where/when: Piccadilly Gardens, 29 June
'For the opening event of MIF17, Manchester’s meeting place will be the setting for a self-portrait of the city. A specially designed walkway in Piccadilly Gardens will welcome a selection of local residents, who will parade on the runway to musical accompaniment for audiences both in the streets and online. Ranging from high-fashion statements to far more personal moments, What Is the City but the People? will capture Manchester through its outfits, attitudes and individuality. Created by the People of Manchester from an idea by Jeremy Deller, in association with Islington Mill.'
Where/when: Royal Exchange Theatre, 1-15 July
'A bold new theatre show created by Scott Graham from Frantic Assembly, Underworld’s Karl Hyde and playwright Simon Stephens, focusing on contemporary fatherhood in all its complexities and contradictions. Inspired by conversations with fathers and sons from the trio’s home towns in the heart of the country, Fatherland is a survey of life in England’s towns today. The show will transform the familiar spaces of Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, with a cast of thirteen men and a remarkable, and an all-embracing musical score by Karl Hyde and Matthew Herbert.'
Underworld's Karl Hyde will pen the score for 'Fatherland'
The full MIF17 programme will be announced Thursday 9 March 2017