On 12th July 2017 Gillian Harrison wrote:

Manchester International Festival - week 2 roundup

It’s been a busy week – here’s a whistle stop tour of where we’ve been and what we’ve seen.

‘Last and First Men’ was a one-off performance of a new work by Icelandic composer Johann Johannson (Siccario, Arrival, Bladerunner 2049) – a multimedia piece featuring spoken word, film and the very fine playing of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. The layered, otherwordly music was perfectly set against a backdrop of imagery featuring the ominous decaying sculptural monuments of eastern Europe and the words of Tilda Swinton, which outlined the next few millennia of human existence as surmised by Olaf Stapledon in his novel of the same name. This is exactly the type of collaborative and experimental work for which MIF is most well-known.

I have been attending MIF since 2009 and volunteering with them since 2013, and over the years I have discovered that the “children’s” productions are universally wonderful. This year is no exception. ‘The Welcoming Party’ is an immersive theatre production exploring the personal stories of the cast and their journeys to live in the UK. Focusing on the challenges faced by immigrants to Manchester at every stage of the process, the performance featured music, dance, puppetry and staging that transported the audience to the Sahara, the Mediterranean, the ‘Jungle’ and beyond.

Marianne wrote here about New Order, who are performing a selection of their back catalogue with a synth orchestra. Accompanying these gigs is the ‘True Faith’ exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery, exploring the visual impact of Joy Division and New Order, and the artwork they inspired by artists such as Julian Schnabel, Jeremy Deller and Slater B Bradley.

I was also lucky enough to see Christophe Chassol – billed as a ‘maverick French pianist’, which was enough to pique my interest. And I was rewarded with a fantastically entertaining performance of cyclical, looping music that ‘explored the chord of D major’, followed by samples (both sound and visual) of a visit to India, played in tandem with keyboard, synth and drums.

Finally for this week was ‘Party Skills for the End of the World’ – an opportunity to enjoy some immersive theatre while expanding my party piece and apocalypse surviving skillset! I learnt how to: mix the perfect martini, make an arrow head from a spoon, create a penguin from an aubergine, spin a cushion on my finger, distill alcohol and, my favourite, how to pitch a Japanese throwing star! More soberingly we were invited to peel an orange and then stitch it back together while imagining a time where we might have to perform first aid for real, at the end of the world. The setting for this work is the 1996 Stirling Prize winning Centenary Building – now sadly lying dormant and awaiting demolition, but working perfectly as the scene for a contemporary end of the world scenario – disconcerting but loads of fun!

And there’s still plenty to come before the festival ends this Sunday – for more information or to book tickets click here.