10 of the most unusual locations at MIF19

If you’ve been in Manchester during the Festival, you’ll know it’s one of the absolute best occasions to be in the city. Already filled with innovative cultural hotspots, the city is transformed by 18 extraordinary days of world premieres and special events from across the spectrum of performing arts, visual arts and popular culture in a mass of unexpected locations across the city – from railway depots, churches and squares to tunnels, lawcourts and car parks. We look back at some of the most memorable places we found ourselves in during MIF19…

Victoria Tunnels, A Drunk Pandemic

Photo credit Michael Pollard

The Manchester cholera epidemic of the 1830s was the unlikely inspiration for the first major UK project by one of the world’s most playful and provocative art collectives, Tokyo’s Chim↑Pom – invited to MIF19 by Contact Young Curators, five emerging local artists brought together by MIF and Contact. Tens of thousands of people were buried in cholera pits in the streets around modern-day Victoria Station and Angel Meadow – and thousands of others only survived because they drank beer instead of water. Chim↑Pom’s A Drunk Pandemic immortalized this slice of history by constructing a temporary brewery, built for the purpose in a ‘secret city-centre location’ (in fact the tunnels under Victoria station). Audiences were invited to tour the brewery, try the beer and explore some of Chim↑Pom’s iconic artworks.


Ukranian Cultural Centre, Thank You Very Much

Credit Hugo Glendinning

The Ukranian Cultural Centre on Cheetham Hill provided a fitting backdrop for MIF19’s Thank You Very Much as Claire Cunningham and her ensemble of leading disabled performers pulled back the curtain on the glittering and mysterious world of the tribute artist. Taking to the floor with wit, glitz and a pulsating soundtrack, the dancers pulled on their sparkling costumes to shake up the myth of how bodies should be, dismantle society’s norms and ask: Who have we been trying to be all our lives? Has it ever been our choice? And what really is “the wonder of you”? Critics and audiences were justifiably wowed with The Herald, um, heralding it “Astonishing…a life-affirming display of community spirit that would make Elvis quiver with pride”


Mayfield Depot, Invisible Cities and DYSTOPIA987

MIF’s long association with Mayfield stretches back to 2013 when the atmospheric former railway station hosted a collaboration between documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis and Bristolian innovators, Massive Attack. Since then it’s been used for a whole host of events from launches and after-show parties to a 12-hour music extravaganza to celebrate MIF’s ten-year anniversary. For MIF19 we presented one of the highlights of Manchester International Festival 2019, Invisible Cities, which saw acclaimed choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, writer Lolita Chakrabarti, 59 Productions and Rambert come together to create a spellbinding mix of theatre, choreography, music, architectural design and projection mapping. Then, in DYSTOPIA987, the award-winning grime artist and producer Skepta took audiences on a journey into the future of rave. Via a series of text messages, audiences were directed to a ‘secret’ location where they encountered a series of intimate and immersive experiences, a live set from Skepta, a wealth of new technology and a cast inhabiting a hidden netherworld.


St Peter’s Square, The Anvil

Credit Chris Payne

On 16 August 1819, more than 60,000 people flooded into St Peter’s Field from all over Manchester. They came in peace, united in their passion for the right to vote, but as the speeches began, armed troops on horseback charged into the crowd, killing at least 15 and injuring more than 600. MIF marked the 200th anniversary of this pivotal moment in British history with an extraordinary day of performance, poetry and music. ANU, one of Europe’s most daring theatre companies, invited audiences to take to the streets for a day-long series of free, immersive performances in locations across the city from an ambulance in St Peter’s Square to an installation in the town hall, inspired by the lives and stories of those who died at Peterloo. Spanning locations across the city, this epic theatrical homage culminated in a gathering in St Peter’s Square, before taking audiences to the Bridgewater Hall for the world premiere of a major new piece of music, by composer Emily Howard, and poet Michael Symmons Roberts.


St Augustine’s Church, Tuesday

Photo credit Chris Payne

Founded in 2004, acclaimed Belgian theatre company Studio ORKA create work for children and adults, telling stories of the people, places, and experiences that make our journey through life unique – often using site-specific settings. For MIF19, the beautiful, Grade 1-listed St Augustine’s Church in Pendlebury became the setting for their world premiere of Tuesday. Known as the ‘Miners’ Cathedral’, due to its almost cathedral-like stature, in the heart of a one-time coal-mining community, St Augustine’s church provided the backdrop for this playful and poetic exploration of the passage of the life of the eponymous Tuesday. Audiences were taken through a series of rites of passage, from Tuesday’s abandonment as a baby in the 1940s, through the conflicts of adolescence and the poignancy of later life – with key milestones used as anchor points to present a meditation on life, growing and diminishing, love and loss.


Old Bauer Millett arches, Manchester Street Poem

Manchester Street Poem – MIF17’s award-winning live installation artwork that told the stories of people who found themselves homeless in the city – returned for MIF19 in a new incarnation following its original presentation in a Northern Quarter shop unit. Visitors were invited to see the creative process in action at a temporary city centre workshop in the Old Bauer Millett arches as Karl Hyde and the Manchester Street Poem team created billboard-sized artworks for a daily-changing exhibition in Festival Square. A QR code, added to the artworks, enabled visitors to listen directly to the contributor’s voices, newly recorded for this project. Members of the team were also on the square to answer questions and engage in conversations about the work they do throughout the year.


Sackville Building (and others), Utopolis Manchester

Author-directors Helgard Haug, Stefan Kaegi and Daniel Wetzel, have been developing complex immersive formats for interacting audiences under the Berlin-based collective label Rimini Protokoll since 2002. For MIF19, they created Utopolis Manchester, a visionary new work that transformed people’s view of the city as they discovered the people and places that create Manchester’s daily life. Gathering in dozens of small groups, in many different locations – such as the Sackville Building, set up as an exam hall, the town hall, a law court and the central library, audiences headed out to explore the city and its citizens and discover the many different ways in which people in the city create society, communities, and democracy, guided by pre-programmed speakers and a huge team of friendly hosts from across the city.


Custom-made structure, Atmospheric Memory 

A huge custom-built structure made from hundreds of shipping containers, right next to the Science & Industry Museum’s 1830 Warehouse, became the temporary home to the extraordinary Atmospheric Memory for MIF19. At once a daring artwork and a sensory performance that immerses visitors in an ever-changing audio-visual environment, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s breathtaking installation scoured the atmosphere for the voices of our past, inspired by computing pioneer Charles Babbage’s 180-year-old proposal that the air is a ‘vast library’ holding every word ever spoken. Harnessing both state-of-the-art technology and phantasmagorical effects, Lozano-Hemmer’s ‘Atmospheric Machines’ transformed speech into trails of vapour, ripples on water and epic 360-degree projections. Audiences entered the installation via a polyphonic tunnel featuring thousands of separate sound channels before encountering the likes of a weathervane table controlled by computerized fans, an endoscopic film, a voice-controlled light beacon and the world’s first 3D printed speech bubble.


Albert Square, Festival Square

Temporarily renamed Festival Square for 18 extraordinary days, the biennial transformation of Albert Square, in front of Manchester’s historic town hall, has become a Festival highlight. The square was redesigned for MIF19, offering a large new stage hosting a packed, free programme of live acts, DJs and performance as well as great food and drink, supper clubs featuring Michelin starred chefs, and special events. Highlights included a surprise gig from Laurie Anderson, a storming set from Reggae legend Horace Andy and award-winning producer, and composer Nitin Sawhney performing a stripped back version of his groundbreaking album Beyond Skin, alongside some of the city and the North’s finest musical talent, including a Children of Zeus ‘friends and family’ line-up of Manchester neo-soul, Halifax heroes The Orielles, new wave power pop from Working Men’s Club and post-punk from LIINES.


Upper Campfield Market Hall, TREE and MIF19 programme launch

Photo credit Tarnish Vision

Another Festival favourite, Upper Campfield Market Hall is a fantastically atmospheric former covered-market just round the corner from the St John’s neighbourhood (which will be home to The Factory). This year it played host to the MIF19 programme launch as well as theatre highlight Tree. Created by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah, Tree was an electrifying new blend of drama, music, and dance as it followed one man’s journey into the heart and soul of contemporary South Africa – with the audience at the centre of the action. Directed by Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of London’s Young Vic, with music inspired by Elba’s album Mi Mandela, Tree was an exhilarating show about identity, family and belonging, seen through the eyes of one man on the toughest journey of his life.

MIF21 will take place in locations across the city from 1-18 July 2021.

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