Have you checked out the programme for the 57 th Belfast International Arts Festival? From 15 October to 3 November, the festival brings an eclectic fusion of cutting-edge performances from the world of music, dance, film, visual arts, literature and theatre, including 14 UK, Irish and world premieres. With over 200 events to choose from over 20 days, the 57th edition promises to stretch minds, challenge perceptions, and to surprise and delight audiences.
The international programme focuses on crossing artistic borders and pushing boundaries. Highlights include the explosively energetic To Da Bone; the wonderfully quirky 100 Keyboards; the exquisitely Beckett flavoured Real Magic; the beautifully captivating La Spire; Oscar-award winning Glen Hansard; the spectacularly immersive Median; pulsing Afro-Cuban beats with La Dame Blanche and much more!
This year, Belfast will be part of two major international celebrations, the Japan-UK Season of Culture and FranceDance UK.
The opening event on 15 October is the UK and Irish premiere of Median, a dazzling performance combining dance, hypnotic sounds and stunning digital visuals from Japanese experimental artist Hiroaki Umeda. Think of the most creative music videos by Radiohead and Aphex Twin, meets the stealth and intensity of The Matrix. Also featuring will be Tokyo artist, ASUNA, with his quirky, immersive sound installation, 100 Keyboards. Literally 100 battery-powered, analogue keyboards are manipulated to create an intriguing and fascinating ambient wash of overlapping notes and sonic textures that envelop the audience from every direction. Both of these are at The MAC.
If you’ve seen Christine and the Queens’ video for Girlfriend, you may have seen the Festival’s French dance stars, (LA)HORDE, who will be performing their electrifying high energy jumpstyle piece, To Da Bone, in the Grand Opera House Belfast. The cast of 11 dancers were crowd-sourced from across Europe through internet auditions, and the piece is a rebel call to the social media generation.
Also in dance Shobana Jeyasingh Dance will be performing an Irish premiere of Staging Schiele, the story of radical Austrian nude artist and self-portraitist, Egon Schiele, before it heads to Southbank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall for its London run.
This year’s Embrace FREE public events programme includes the UK and Irish premiere of La Spire by French all-female circus-arts troupe led by Chloe Moglia. Head to Belfast’s Botanic Gardens on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 October to experience breath-taking aerial acrobatics on an impressive steel spiral sculpture.
The eclectic musical offering in this year’s programme features two sold-out shows by Glen Hansard, along with Two Door Cinema Club, Joshua Burnside, 70’s ska favourites, The Selecter and Cuban-born Parisian musician and all-round queen of cool, La Dame Blanche, whose father was creative director of the Buena Vista Social Club.
Classical music fans will also need to move quickly to secure their tickets for a performance by pianist Lucy Parham, who’ll be joined by British acting royalty, Juliet Stevenson and Tim McInerny, performing Beloved Clara, the love triangle story between Robert Schumann, his wife Clara and Johannes Brahms. Tickets for Ruth McGinley’s premiere duo with violinist Darragh Morgan is also proving popular.
In the field of theatre, the Festival brings together some of Ireland’s finest, including Dublin-based Fishamble with Pat Kinevane’s searing solo choreography and touching theatre piece Before, which met with critical acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival last month; and an edgy, of-the-moment piece by Chalk it Down Productions, Spliced, which is a timely study of mental health and male identity in the uber-male sports world. The Lyric Theatre is staging a reimagined version of the Irish classic The Playboy of the Western World, directed by Oonagh Murphy. Met with controversy when it was first staged at the Abbey Theatre in 1907, this brutally hilarious masterpiece is about life on the margins and the lengths we go to, to create a reality more exciting than the place we find ourselves.
If you like your theatre to have a kick Forced Entertainment’s Real Magic at the MAC is a darkly comedic groundhog-day look at current world events; while our own Big Telly Theatre Company will premiere The Worst Café in the World, a special for the Festival, in a make-believe pop-up café in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. Here, the diners will become flies on the wall as reality theatre unfolds around them. With 8 performances from Wednesday 23 to Sunday 27 October this is chaos not to be missed and diners are advised to book a post-theatre meal elsewhere!
The literary and film sections of the programme, with topics spanning environment, health, social justice and politics, are packed with highlights and big names, including author Michael Rosen (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) and Booker longlisted authors Max Porter (Grief is a Thing with Feathers and Lanny) and Kevin Barry (Night Boat to Tangier), along with hotly tipped Kerry Hudson (Lowborn), Emilie Pine (Notes to Self), Meena Kandasamy (Exquisite Cadavers), Niven Govinden (This Brutal House), the Octavia Poetry Collective and a special event on 30 October, the eve of Brexit, featuring journalist and author Gavin Esler talk about his latest book Brexit without the Bullsh*t. Perfect timing!
Take some time out to enjoy several art exhibitions across Belfast, such as the Royal Ulster Academy’s 138 th Annual Exhibition at Ulster Museum, new work by David Sherry at Golden Thread Gallery, Missing Voices at Atypical Gallery among others. Belfast architects Hall McKnight will showcase an immersive large-scale installation at Ulster University for three weeks, which was originally presented at the prestigious Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition.
Entitled Unique Instruments, Expectant Spaces, this critically acclaimed installation looks at the re-imagining of civic spaces – an interesting subject, as the Cathedral Quarter and University undergoes its own landscape re-imagining.
This year’s Festival season will close with the UK and Irish premiere of Lady Magma by Belfast-born choreographer and dancer, Oona Doherty, in partnership with Prime Cut Productions. A celebration of female strength, creeping out of a 1970’s burnt orange aesthetic, performed by a stunning ensemble of international contemporary female dancers exploring the different facets of femininity.
Why not make a night of it and stay over? Hastings Hotels are offering special Belfast Festival accommodation packages (15 Oct – 3 Nov), starting at £45 B&B pps in the Europa and from £65 B&Bpps in Grand Central.
The Belfast International Arts Festival is only made possible with thanks to Festival supporters and funders, the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council, Tourism Northern Ireland, the British Council, the Department for Communities, and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs.
Visit https://www.belfastinternationalartsfestival.com for full details and booking links or book in person at the Visit Belfast Welcome Centre, Donegal Square North, Belfast or by telephone: 0289024 6609.