Artists and footballers warm up for the Manchester International Festival

A group show by 11 footballer couples and visual artists, an exhibition of Yayoi Kusama bouncy castles and a new work by pioneering Japanese experimental composer Ryuichi Sakamoto are the focal points of this year’s Manchester International Festival, which runs from 29 June to 16 July.

Artistic director John McGrath said this year’s festival, which will also feature a citywide artistic Easter egg hunt for collectors’ coins by artist Ryan Gander, a three-day Janelle Monáe residency and the world premiere of Kimber Lee’s acclaimed untitled f*ck m* ss s**gon play , would “take the temperature of our time once again and paint possibilities for the future.

“The festival will expand its reach across the city by finding unexpected places to display its work and collaborating with local artists and residents to perform and participate. MIF23 will be a true celebration of the city and its cultural offerings.”

This year’s festival will mark the first time the public will enter Factory International, the 13,000-square-foot arts center under construction in the city since 2019. The Kusama exhibit, titled You, Me and the Balloons, will be the first major exhibition in the space designed by Dutch architect Ellen van Loon. Sarah Maxfield, Arts Council England Area Manager for the North, said: “Not only is the city reviving its internationally acclaimed festival, it is also presenting work at the Factory International venue and new public spaces for the first time. This is a big moment for Manchester and the broader Northern cultural scene.”

The home cinema room will host the world premiere of an adaptation of Larry Mitchell and Ned Asta’s groundbreaking queer fable The Fagots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, directed by Ted Huffman, as well as the UK premiere of All Right. Good Night., a show about the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 by the German theater company Rimini Protokoll.

Lee’s play, which won the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting International Award, is staged at the Royal Exchange Theater and directed by Roy Alexander Weise. The production “jumps through time – writhing in repetitive Asian stereotypes and then exploding them”. The play’s performance will notably overlap with a controversial revival of Miss Saigon at the Sheffield Crucible.

At the recently reopened New Century Hall in Manchester, London record label Young are hosting a series of club nights with Israeli dance company LEV entitled ROSE and music by Ben UFO. The music program also includes opening weekend performances by Janelle Monáe, Alison Goldfrapp performing her new solo material and a series of Patsy Cline covers by John Grant and the Richard Hawley Band.

Acclaimed Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo will return to Manchester for the first time in 10 years with a performance by local musicians, while electronic musician Afrodeutsche will work with chamber orchestra Manchester Camerata.

Japanese musician, composer, record producer, pianist, activist, writer, actor and dancer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images

A highlight of the festival’s visual arts program is The Trequartista – Art and Football United. Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and footballer Juan Mata, the collaboration will bring 11 contemporary artists and 11 footballers to new works inspired by the specialized and increasingly rare role of the trequartista – a player who acts between midfielders and forwards. The works produced in The Trequartista will be presented in a group exhibition at MIF 2025, with the first work from the project by Mata and German artist Tino Sehgal being shown at this year’s festival.

Sakamoto’s new work, a collaboration with mixed reality content production studio Tin Drum, is titled Kagami. Audiences will wear “optically transparent devices” to see a virtual Sakamoto perform piano pieces at Versa Manchester Studios. Sakamoto made his rectal cancer diagnosis public in January 2021, saying, “From now on, I will live next to cancer. But I hope to be able to make music for a while longer.”

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