The full programme of events for this year’s Manchester International Festival has been revealed, including new work from Cillian Murphy and a giant sculpture of Big Ben in Piccadilly Gardens.
People will also be able to get a glimpse inside MIF’s £186m arts centre The Factory for the first time, as it hosts the first of many events during the festival.
The world-famous biennial arts festival will be back in the city between July 1 and 18, delivering original work by artists from over 20 countries.
Sprawling right across Greater Manchester will be dance, theatre, arts, film and music, in both indoor and outdoor locations, with more of the festival than ever taking place in public spaces.
Festival Square will also return this summer, to a new location at Cathedral Gardens.
The central, free-to-visit hub will host a packed programme of food, drink and free entertainment, with the line-up due to follow soon after the main programme reveal.
Among the big names debuting new work at MIF21 will be actor Cillian Murphy, singer-songwriter Patti Smith, Catatonia frontwoman Cerys Matthews, world-renowned choreographer Boris Charmatz, author Lemn Sissay and musician Arlo Parks.
The festival will also continue its work online for those not in Manchester this summer, with live streams and digital work.
The majority of MIF21’s work has been created in the last year and will provide a snapshot of the tumultuous times brought about by Covid-19.
Artists will explore love and human connection, equality and social change, the way we play, and the relationship between the urban and the rural.
MIF21 will be one of the first major public events to return to the city, providing employment for hundreds of freelancers and artists.
Manchester International Festival artistic director and chief executive John McGrath says: “MIF has always been a festival like no other – with almost all the work being created especially for us in the months and years leading up to each festival edition.
“But who would have guessed two years ago what a changed world the artists making work for our 2021 Festival would be working in?”
“I am thrilled to be revealing the projects that we will be presenting from 1-18 July this year – a truly international programme of work made in the heat of the past year and a vibrant response to our times.
“Created with safety and wellbeing at the heart of everything, it is flexible to ever-changing circumstances, and boldly explores both real and digital space.
“We hope MIF21 will provide a time and place to reflect on our world now, to celebrate the differing ways we can be together, and to emphasise, despite all that has happened, the importance of our creative connections – locally and globally.”
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, says: “After the year we’ve all had that has been such a massive challenge for our cultural sector – which was the first to lockdown a year ago and will be the last to reopen – Manchester needs MIF this year more than ever.
“Manchester has always been a city that values and champions culture and is rightly recognised across the globe for its strengths and innovation in this.
“As we now begin to move out of the pandemic, we’re very clear that the cultural sector has an enduring and important part to play in our recovery.
“Thanks to the determination and creativity of the MIF team and all the artists and others who are part of this year’s festival, I have no doubt that MIF21 will put Manchester back in the spotlight once more, firmly centre-stage again, leading the way as ever and showing the rest of the world what Manchester does best.”
Tickets will be on sale on from May 13 and can be purchased from mif.co.uk
Marking the opening night of MIF21 will be a new outdoor dance work spreading right the way down Deansgate.
Created by French choreographer Boris Charmatz, who was behind 10000 Gestures at MIF19, Sea Change will see both professional and non-professional dancers placed at intervals along one of Manchester’s busiest streets.
Each dancer will perform and repeat a dance movement on the spot, with onlookers piecing together the full choreography as they walk along the street.
Big Ben Lying Down
Piccadilly Gardens will be the home of one of the largest MIF works this summer.
A monumental 42m sculpture of Big Ben will be constructed in the public space, built using 20,000 books.
Each of the books has been chosen for the way it has shaped British politics, a ‘provocation to reimagine our national symbols and unite around democracy and equality’.
Cephas Williams portrait trail
Also responding to the events of the past year, namely the Black Lives Matter movement, artist and activist Cephas Williams will create 100 portraits of Black British people, including many from Manchester.
The portraits will be displayed throughout the Arndale shopping centre, highlighting the contribution of black people living in the UK.
Captioning the City
This next MIF21 event will include an actual plane soaring over the city.
Christine Sun Kim will be creating installations that caption the world around us, from descriptions installed on buildings to a plane tailing a banner.
Captioning the City invites us to consider what makes up the essence of a city – and to experience our world in a whole new dimension.
Arcadia will give people a chance to see inside the construction site of The Factory, MIF’s huge future home, for one weekend only.
Opera and theatre director Deborah Warner will install a field of luminous tents, housing a murmuring soundscape of poetry inspired by the natural world.
Leading actors and musicians will contribute, including Jane Horrocks, Simon Russell Beale, RoxXxan, David Thewlis, and Nemzzz, with poetry from Sappho to Simon Armitage and from William Blake to Sabrina Mahfouz.
Poet Slash Artist
Lemn Sissay and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist will work together on Poet Slash Artist, showcasing the work of poets who also work with visual art at both HOME’s gallery and across the city.
Tracey Emin, Inua Ellams, Imtiaz Dharker, Sky Hopinka, Lubaina Himid and Adonis will all feature.
Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews will curate a special live event celebrating words and music too.
Notes on Grief
The heartbreaking essay Notes on Grief, written for the New Yorker in 2020, will be transferred to the stage in an MIF21 world premiere.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s poignant tribute to the father she loved ‘so much, so fiercely, so tenderly’ will be taken to the stage by director Rae McKen.
All of This Unreal Time
Cillian Murphy, the star of hit series Peaky Blinders, will star in a brand new film that will make its world debut at MIF21 with an immersive installation in surround sound.
All of This Unreal Time will candidly examine one man’s failings as it explores the need to care for each other and the Earth.
It’s been written by Max Porter and directed by Aoife McArdle, with music by Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner and Jon Hopkins.
The Global Playground
This family-friendly show will blend dance, music, theatre and puppetry to consider how we play – a subject which has taken on a new resonance in the many months of lockdown.
The Global Playground marks 25 years of Theatre-Rites (The Welcoming Party, MIF17), and has been choreographed by Gregory Maqoma (Tree MIF19) and scored by Ayanna Witter-Johnson.
Over at the Whitworth art gallery, Cloud Studies will be a major exhibition that coincides with the tenth anniversary of Forensic Architecture.
Cloud Studies will ‘expose how state power mobilises the air we breathe to suppress and dominate’.
The exhibition will include the first phase of a new investigation on environmental racism in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, a region where majority-Black communities are exposed to the most toxic air in the US.
The long waited, weighted gathering
This new commission will mark the grand opening of the redeveloped and extended Manchester Jewish Museum in Cheetham Hill, which has undergone a £6m transformation.
The immersive installation has been created by Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost, including a new film shot inside the museum and in the surrounding Cheetham Hill area, inspired by the museum’s history as a former Spanish and Portuguese synagogue.
A fully-functioning grocery store with a thought-provoking twist will be built in Manchester for MIF21.
Leading Pakistani artist Rashid Rana will present an anti-consumerist shop, selling generic, locally sourced and unbranded produce, seeking to reframe the act of buying as a social, personal and global cause.
I Love You Too
100 Greater Manchester residents have contributed love letters to create this project by South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere.
I Love You Too will take the form of a book of love letters (written by both local residents with the help of a team of poets and writers), alongside a new installation in the grand Reading Room of the Central Library.
Postcards From Now
Leading artists from across the globe have created a new set of film projects exploring how Covid-19 will change the way we’ll live in the future.
Choreographer Akram Khan and animator and film director Naaman Azhari explore how tragedy can bring us together; visual artist Ibrahim Mahama gives an insight to creative education for young people in rural Ghana, musician and activist Angélique Kidjo creates a potent portrait of her home country Benin and the women who inhabit it; a collaboration between choreographer Lucinda Childs and the artist collective (LA)HORDE shows the artistic process of creation in lockdown across borders; and director Lola Arias exposes and explores ageism in a pandemic society.
One of the biggest events on the music bill will be a one-off concert from Arlo Parks, performed with musicians from Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music.
There will also be two nights of performances from Patti Smith, and a partnership with Lagos-based festival Homecoming.
MIF will work with Manchester Hip Hop Archive to celebrate an often-overlooked area of the city’s music scene, while emerging Islamic culture festival Salaam will showcase the music talent of singer Abi Sampa, Rushil and Amrit Singh and multi-instrumentalist Sona Jobarteh.
Manchester Camerata will perform an immersive concert called The Patience of Trees, featuring a newly commissioned concerto for solo violin, strings and percussion by Dobrinka Tabakova and performed by Hugo Ticciati, inspired by the healing potential and power of the natural world.
The heart of MIF21 will again be its Festival Square, this year moving to Cathedral Gardens while work continues at the Town Hall and Albert Square.
The free entertainment here will include curated nights from Homoelectric, Jamz Supernova, Mr Scruff and DJ Paulette, with more to be announced.
As part of their 200th anniversary celebrations, The Guardian will co-host a keynote lecture on the opening night of MIF.
MIF’s online channel MIF LIVE will return too, with a mix of performance, live music, exclusive interviews, and a range of commentary and talks.
Online audiences will also be able to visit the Virtual Factory, a major series of online artworks inspired by the architecture and the ambition of the building, which include a playable interpretation of The Factory in Fortnite Creative.
Premiering during MIF21, artist, writer and game designer Robert Yang has created a queer video game which explores gender, sexuality, gardening and society.
A huge puppet was supposed to arrive on MIF’s opening weekend, after travelling all the way from the Turkish-Syrian border to enact the journey of a nine-year-old refugee girl.
Instead, the festival will mark the start of The Walk, and Little Amal’s journey, in a special ceremony, before the puppet itself arrives later in the year.
For the first time, Manchester residents will take over the curation of the Festival’s talks and discussions series, such as Festival in My House where Greater Manchester residents programmed their own international micro-festivals.
Looking Forward to Tomorrow will explore some of the big issues of the day including the climate emergency and anti-Black racism.
A volunteer programme will be running for anyone looking for an opportunity to get involved in this year’s festival.
What’s your highlight of the MIF21 line up? Join the discussion in the comments below.