A look ahead to the 2019 Manchester International Festival

BBC Philharmonic (c) Matt Squire

BBC Philharmonic (c) Matt Squire - Credit: Matt Squire

Manchester takes centre stage as stars from around the world premiere bold new work.

MIF Managing Director Christine Cort (c) The Mancorialist

MIF Managing Director Christine Cort (c) The Mancorialist - Credit: The Mancorialist

Some of the world's most exciting artists will be showcasing specially commissioned works of art when the Manchester International Festival returns this month.

With the likes of Yoko Ono, David Lynch and Hollywood actor Idris Elba taking centre stage, it's no surprise the biennial event is set to attract crowds from across the globe, as the one-of-a-kind festival has done since its inception 12 years ago.

'Manchester International Festival is 18 days of world premieres and special events across the city. Plus, we're building towards The Factory, a brand-new arts resource for the region, which will be our permanent home. It's a lot,' says Christine Cort, the festival's Managing Director.

After living in London for years, Christine moved back to the North West in the mid-Noughties with the aim of taking a year out and spending more time with her family.

John McGrath, MIF Artistic Director (c) Tarnish Vision

John McGrath, MIF Artistic Director (c) Tarnish Vision - Credit: Tarnish Vision

'Within two weeks, a colleague from London called Alex Poots rang up and said "I've got this most amazing new job in Manchester where I'm going to stage the world's first festival of world premieres and special events and I really need your help". He was incredibly persuasive, so we set the company up with others in 2005 and held the first Manchester International Festival in 2007.'

The opportunity emerged following the success of the Commonwealth Games hosted in Manchester in 2002.

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'I think the city's leaders wisely decided they wanted to build on the momentum of the Games and create a festival but didn't want to dictate what the nature of that festival should be,' says Christine.

Instead, they invited proposals from the country's leading art impresarios.

'They went for Alex's very bold suggestion, which was to invite artists to Manchester, to do something they'd always wanted to do and we'd resource it and make it happen.'

The festival, which this year will include artists from more than 20 countries, requires a huge team, including 500 volunteers, working around the clock, and typically involves more than 200 suppliers from across the North West.

The hub of the action will be in Albert Square, temporarily renamed Festival Square, in front of Manchester's town hall, where the BBC will be broadcasting live.

'In the past we've had a pavilion theatre in which people had to pay to go in and see the acts, but this time, we've decided to put a free stage, right at the centre of the Festival Square and we've got some amazing people playing on it, people you'd normally pay a lot of money to see,' says Christine, although at the time we went to print, so wasn't at liberty to say who.

There will be plenty of food, including British classics from Lancastrian chef Paul Heathcote, Indian bites from Manjit's Kitchen, and pizza from Honest Crust.

As well as events taking place at Festival Square, there will be free exhibitions at venues across the city including HOME, the Science and Industry Museum, The Whitworth, and Manchester Art Gallery, like School of Integration by Cuban artist Tania Bruguera.

'There are projects that I've been working on since the day I got the job, and artists I've wanted to involve, so the festival has quite a long tail,' says John McGrath, the festival's Artistic Director who was appointed in 2016 following Alex Poots' departure.

John previously headed the National Theatre Wales but started his career in New York in the early 90s. 'I knew Manchester International Festival from its very first year as I'd co-produced a project when I was at Manchester's Contact Theatre, and I've visited it nearly every year it's been on,' he adds. 'I've always loved how it reflected on a very ambitious scale, those very early passions of mine, where you didn't get stuck in one art form or one space.'

Following the positive reaction to 2017's opening event, where 'ordinary, yet exceptional people from Manchester' walked a catwalk through Piccadilly Gardens designed by Jeremy Deller, John was keen to organise another public event by a renowned artist that's free to everybody.

'This year we've asked Yoko Ono to create that opening artwork. It's in Cathedral Gardens and will involve mass participation, where everyone turns up, and rings bells for peace,' says John.

'One of the things I love about 2019 is the way in which it's celebrating some of the great senior artists, like Yoko, Philip Glass, David Lynch and Laurie Anderson. The reason they're great names is they're great artists and our job is to invite the most extraordinary artists from around the world to come and do something new in Manchester.'

Although he finds it difficult to name personal highlights given his close connection to each of the projects, he will say that from the very early on he wanted Idris Elba to be involved in the festival.

'I think he's such an extraordinary creative force,' says John. He describes it as 'thrilling' that Idris has created music for the play Tree, a collaboration with the Young Vic's Kwame Kwei-Armah. 'These things do take time, but they're worth it,' he says.

With so many events taking place across the city, Christine suggests spending some time on the MIF website and prioritising what you want to see. 'Book for one or two things and take a punt on something you wouldn't normally choose to see. Push yourself out of your comfort zone, because when people do that, they're rewarded in spades,'