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Manchester International Festival 2013 Preview | reviews, news & interviews

Manchester International Festival 2013 Preview

Manchester International Festival 2013 Preview

MIF programme wows with stunning crop of one-off events

Talented trio: Baryshnikov, Dafoe, Wilson

Yesterday Kenneth Branagh was thanking Manchester – saying that he felt he had “come of age” the previous time he had performed Shakespeare in the city 25 years ago, the audience being so “generous, quick-witted and lively". He also thanked the city for having the determination and audacity, in the face of gloom and cuts, at the launch of its adventurous festival, to back to the hilt a biennial world-class arts extravaganza, which, among many notable headline acts has Branagh as lead in Macbeth (directed by Branagh and Emmy and Tony award-winning Rob Ashcroft). Tickets will be gold dust, but a big screen on the last night will enable an audience of 5,000 to view it.

There are, of course, hundreds of festivals and launches, but Manchester has really pushed the boat out for this years Manchester International Festival (MIF), whose slogan - “World premieres and special events made for Manchester, shared with the world” - for once isn’t empty hype. There is at least a score of events that any Festival would be trumpeting, among them a new Robert Wilson-directed show, The Old Woman by Soviet writer Kharms (who was killed in the gulags aged 36), starring Willem Dafoe and Mikhail Baryshnikov (a dancer and Sex In The City star, as Festival Director Alex Poots described him). Maxine Peake doing Shelley’s Masque Of Anarchy will be fascinating (and as it's about the Peterloo massacre, it has local resonance), as will the Donmar director Josie Rourke’s take on chess maestro Gary Kasparov playing the IBM computer Deep Blue, not to mention the rare appearance of that peerless classical pianist Martha Argerich.

That former enfant terrible Peter Sellars will be presenting a new staged piece, The Michaelangelo Sonnets, at a long-lost Manchester venue the Albert Hall. The re-use of venues in Manchester like the Mayfield Depot is one of the Festival’s strongest suits. MIF is actually almost like the kind of internationalist, visionary thing Sellars was trying to do in Melbourne (complete with a food and ecological elements), except that Sellars fell out with everyone and got the sack (or resigned first, depending on who tells the story). Alex Poots seems to be more of a diplomat and less of a showman – he has clearly succeeded in cajoling original performances and dealing with the impressive number of sponsors.

His version of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas performed in Novosibirsk was the freshest, most soulful version I’ve ever heard

Equally exciting is the appearance of some names further down the bill that are less well known than the headliners but who are really quite extraordinary. Hold a gun to my head and ask me who I think the best singer is in the world and I would probably say Abida Parveen, the Sufi singer who completely entrances audiences and takes them on a deep spiritual journey. Teodor Currentzis, a conductor I met in Siberia is some kind of crazed genius/egomaniac who says things like “I will save classical music", and means it. His version of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas performed in Novosibirsk was the freshest, most soulful version I’ve ever heard. So when he claims to aim to create something of the original impact The Rite Of Spring a century later in a new version I’m inclined to, if not believe him, to be at the least very curious. It is being directed by renowned Italian Romeo Castellucci, who is “creating choreography from falling bone powder” (no, me neither). As well as her concert, Abida Parveen (see video below) is also involved in a multi-faith project with John Tavener, who, since his brush with mortality a couple of years back, is by all accounts being very prolific.

There are numerous other eye-catching projects in assorted art forms – a preview of Matthew Barney and Jonathan Bepler’s new film, an art performance by Nikhail Chopra in the unfinished Landscape Gallery, while pop music aficionados have a bumper crop of possibilities: from a 15-night run in an intimate space by The xx and a Massive Attack collaboration with film-maker Adam Curtis, to Manchester’s finest Money, Delphic and DJ Rob Da Bank playing only Manchester music.

There are many other treasures at this year's MIF – check the programme here. But what is clear is that as far as arts festivals go, just as in football, there is a distinct shift to Manchester. Right now I can’t think of another more ambitious and wide-ranging arts festival, packed with more must-see one-off events. A generous chunk of backing and a lot of belief and flair means many of us will be trekking north-westwards come July.

Follow Peter Culshaw on Twitter

Right now I can’t think of another more ambitious and wide-ranging arts festival, packed with more must-see events

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