Eclectic line-up of world premieres for Manchester Int'l Festival

2013-02-28 22:46:44 GMT2013-03-01 06:46:44(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

MANCHESTER, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- The program for this year's Manchester International Festival was unveiled Thursday, with a wide variety of performances ranging from the world's leading Sufi singer to a reworking of Igor Stravinsky's 'Rites of Spring' in a disused railway warehouse.

Highlights of the Festival, held every two years, include a performance of Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' by Sir Kenneth Branagh, who appeared as Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the London Olympic Games opening ceremony, and a rare appearance by piano legend Martha Argerich.

Explaining the driving idea behind the festival in the northern industrial city, Festival director Alex Poots told Xinhua "It's the world's first festival of new work; so everything in it is either a world premier or a special event. We like to work across art forms -- not just music and theater."

"It's an absolute joy to choose stuff for the Festival. We are not wedded to one art form, and I am also endlessly curious about everything," he said.

The Festival enjoys considerable support from Manchester City Council, and one third of the 11.8 million pound (17.9 million U.S. dollars) cost of the event comes from public funds, with roughly one third from private funds and one third from co-commissioning.

Poots said he commissions work from music, art, popular culture, theater, and dance.

"It is about developing the art forms, advancing them -- and giving chance to explore them and find new ways of working," he said.

"We are aiming for great artists; not necessarily famous ones, but great ones who are incredibly accomplished at what they are doing but also searching for new grammars, languages, and ways of expressing themselves."

Other headlining events from July 4 to 21, include a new play about Russian grandmaster Gary Kasparov and his chess tussle with the computer Deep Blue; Pakistani-born Sufi singer Abida Parveen; and a 15-day residency in a small venue by the band The xx, whose latest album reached the top 10 in 20 countries around the world.

Other musical projects include works by veteran British composer Sir John Tavener, singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry, Goldfrapp, Mogwai.

"Manchester is famous for its contribution to pop music," said Poots, "and we should build on that."

There are also events which practically defy categorization -- Indian artist Nikhil Chopra performing his "Coal on Cotton" piece, an examination of what made Manchester and the complexities of the colonial relation between Britain and India, in an as-yet-unfinished wing of the Whitworth Art Gallery for 65 continuous hours.

Also featured is a performance of the radical Georgian poet Percy Bysshe Shelley's "The Mask of Anarchy" by Manchester actress Maxine Peake.

Shelley wrote his poem in the wake of the massacre, in which 15 protesters demanding political reform in 1819 were killed by British cavalry as they tried to clear a crowd of 50,000.

Hundreds were also wounded in the massacre, which occurred in central Manchester, just a stone's throw from where Peake will give her performance.

In an era of tight and declining budgets on the British art scene, Poots outlined bold goals for the Festival -- to be ambitious, open to failure, and not to play safe.

Poots is looking to repeat the success of the first ever commissioned work for the Festival.

'Monkey: Journey to the West' was commissioned for the first festival in 2007, a Chinese opera with music composed by leading British pop musician Daman Albarn, and directed by Chinese actor and director Chen Shi Zheng.

'Monkey' was based on one of the classics of Chinese literature 'Xi You Ji' (Journey to the West). Poots said to make the opera work 50 classically trained Chinese acrobats were recruited.

Poots said, "Everyone said you won't sell any tickets because it is in mandarin, and we sold out with 25,000 tickets. It was such a success it went to the Chatelet Theater in Paris, to the Spoleto Festival in Italy, and it is now going to the Lincoln Center in New York. When we held it at the O2 Center in London it sold 110,000 tickets."

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