John McGrath looks towards #MIF19

Our Artistic Director and Chief Executive John McGrath looks towards the Festival.

There was a day, around a year ago, when I was in New York. It was a crisp and beautifully sunny morning, and I was walking through Tompkins Square Park in the East Village – close to where I used to live, many years ago. I was on my way to meetings about MIF19, and in a bit of a rush as ever. Suddenly I stopped, something sank into my mind. My next three meetings were, I realised, with Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Yoko Ono. What would the young wannabe theatre director that used to hang out in this park have thought of a schedule like that? I stood still beneath the trees and breathed in the New York air. Sometimes you just have to take a moment to appreciate your good luck.

And I feel very lucky indeed to be bringing not only Philip, Laurie and Yoko to Manchester this year, but a host of other legends, and legends-in-the-making. David Lynch, Janelle Monáe, Tania Bruguera, Abida Parveen, Ngūgī wa Thiong’o, Idris Elba, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Ivo van Hove, Maxine Peake: these are some of the most significant artists working across the globe today, and it’s a real honour that they are bringing their newest work to MIF.

Equally, there are artists who I believe are the Yokos, Philips and Lauries of the future also premiering new commissions in Manchester this summer. Ibrahim Mahama and Kemang wa Lehulere are both deeply rooted in their home countries of Ghana and South Africa respectively, but are both also emerging stars of the global art scene. Chim↑Pom are among the most exciting arts collectives working in Japan, Manchester’s Young Identity are collaborating with the brilliant FlexN from Brooklyn, and Mary Anne Hobbs has curated Queens of the Electronic Underground – where in one night you can see five of the most exciting artists working in electronic music today.

One of the joys of the Festival is the ways in which our artists, whichever city they come from, engage with the landscape of Manchester – often transforming spaces and places in extraordinary ways. Mayfield, the former railway depot, will become the court of Kublai Khan, plus a wealth of seemingly impossible cities – conjured through digital magic and choreographic brilliance in a collaboration with 59 Productions and Rambert. Upper Campfield Market Hall will become South Africa for Tree, Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s exhilarating new music-theatre show.

Meanwhile, down at the Science and Industry Museum, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer will be building a venue from stacks of shipping containers for Atmospheric Memory – an immersive journey into the world of Rafa’s extraordinary technological art works.

Inspired by the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, the wonderful Irish theatre company Anu will be staging events across the city for a day, followed by a concert with the BBC Philharmonic of a new work inspired by the Peterloo story. And German theatre-makers Rimini Protokoll will take audiences on a journey across Manchester, searching for Utopia!

We don’t set themes for the Festival – but it’s certainly true that some shared ideas and questions tend to emerge as our artists work on their ideas. The search for a better world is a common idea this year: from Yoko’s BELLS FOR PEACE, to Skepta’s extraordinary futuristic immersive rave, DYSTOPIA987, which, despite its name, takes us on a search for a new way of being together.

And the joy of performance rings out through the Festival, from Trajal Harrell’s runway re-imagining of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Claire Cunningham’s foray into the world of Elvis tribute acts! Our free programme of music on the new outdoor stage at Festival Square should add to the joy.

We want everyone to feel welcome at the Festival, and a number of projects, like the Festival Square programme, are entirely free. In addition, 10% of all tickets are available at just £10 to Greater Manchester residents on a lower income. Our projects with a family focus are also an important part of this welcome to everyone. Tuesday, in the beautiful Saint Augustine’s Church, will be a moving and charming story for all ages, while Animals of Manchester (including HUMANZ), in the Whitworth and the neighbouring park, will provide a weekend of unexpected delights as we explore the many ways in which animals and humans could interact and live together!

I’m back in New York next week to launch the MIF19 programme over there. We’ll certainly be celebrating and thanking that city for the wonderful New York artists who will be joining us this summer. But we’ll also be shouting about Manchester too, because if you want to encounter the world’s most extraordinary artists while you’re wandering across a city on a sunny morning this July, there’s really only one place to be!

Photo: Tarnish Vision

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