Manchester International Festival unveils 2013 line-up

Starring roles for Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Daniil Kharms’ The Old Woman directed by Robert Wilson; the world premiere of American playwright Peter Sellars’ Michelangelo Sonnets; and Martha Argerich’s first UK performance in a decade will take centre stage at this year’s Manchester International Festival. 

Unveiled this week, the star-studded programme also features a new staging of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy and the premiere of British playwright Matt Charman’s The Machine, about legendary chess player Garry Kasparov’s game against a computer.

Artist Romeo Castellucci and Teodor Currentzis, the artistic director of the Perm State Opera and Ballet Theatre, will present an inventive new vision of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring without dancers – instead choreographing the dust and ashes of animal bones. Audiences will watch this installation of dust shapes inside a vast encasement, accompanied by a 100-piece orchestra.

Running from 4-21 July, the groundbreaking biennial festival commissions world premieres and special events, staged at theatres, warehouses, found spaces and outdoors.

Announced last November, this summer will also feature Kenneth Branagh’s long-awaited return to Shakespeare in a gritty new staging of Macbeth, directed by Rob Ashford in a small deconsecrated church.

‘This year a number of our artists are touching on subjects that have a real currency to the socio-economic climate that we’re living through right now,’ CEO and artistic director Alex Poots told IAM, adding that MIF 2013 is a departure from previous years in that there is a strand linking the performances.

He said: ‘I’m absolutely allergic to themes in festivals normally, they disable artists to do what they want. But I think great artists can help us try to understand the world we’re living in. In this instance, because of these exceptional circumstances [in current affairs], some of the themes that are coming through are particularly poignant.’

The Machine, The Masque of Anarchy and Macbeth all explore elements of ‘greed, corruption, and the market economy – which are more current today than they’ve been for a long time’.

Poots continued: ‘By entrusting artists with the festival’s identity, this has come back to me as a very significant strand. At a time when governments are looking at what to invest in and what makes a civilised society, it’s important that we have a strand in the festival that explores the incredibly important aspects of our country and the world we live in.’

Rather than the usual process of commissioning work three to four years in advance, the MIF team was able to tap into prevalent ideas by delaying commissioning – so artists were reflecting upon genuinely current events.

Poots, director since MIF launched in 2007, has garnered a reputation for staging so-called high-brow performing arts alongside mainstream pop culture; Björk, Marina Abramovic , Snoop Dogg, and the Hallé orchestra have all featured in previous years.This summer will see shows from electronic duo Goldfrapp and Scottish band Mogwai.

‘It’s not helpful to have divisions between the art forms,’ said Poots. ‘It’s a remnant of the old class system. Our job as festival directors and programmers is to try and find those really exceptional artists – in whatever style they operate in – and support them, and help them make their best work. That inevitably straddles a wide range of creativity, across art forms and different styles, and the spaces between them.’

MIF’s organically diverse programme attracts robust audience figures; tickets for Branagh’s hugely anticipated performance sold out in just nine minutes.

In previous years, around half the audiences have been locals, and Poots is keen to both attract world-class artists to Manchester as well as put the city on the international cultural map.

Many shows are co-commissioned with other venues and tour internationally after their MIF run. Co-commissioning partners for 2013 include Thêàtre de la Ville Paris / Festival d’Automne Paris and Spoleto Festival dei 2Mondi.

Poots added that as well as touring works which have premiered at MIF, the festival is also developing a touring department which will support new works of previously staged MIF artists. Artist Matthew Barney’s new ‘visual opera’ will tour to the world’s major opera houses later this year.

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