Big names and bigger plans for Manchester International Festival’s new arts hub

If you haven't heard of The Factory yet, or Factory International as it's now titled, then we're pretty sure that Yayoi Kusama, Danny Boyle and Es Devlin's involvement in its opening programme will ensure that it's at the forefront of your artsy radar. 

Dubbed "one of Europe's most ambitious and adventurous year-round creative programmes" with an eclectic and flexible mixture of the arts in all its forms, Factory International is further proving that it's very much worth getting all giddy about. 

You should only use the word amazing as often as you see two blue horses, but this is truly amazing

Designed to be the permanent home of Manchester International Festival, as well as a world-leading venue for dance, theatre, music, opera, visual arts and popular culture, this silver giant is expected to incorporate the latest digital technologies and breed "innovative contemporary work". 

With an opening event inspired by The Matrix, the largest ever immersive environment from Kusama herself, and 5,000 tickets available for £10 or less, it's a biggie for sure. Massive names in the choreography world, as well as acclaimed writers and prestigious composers, are all set to ensure this opening programme isn't one to miss. 

Set to open in June 2023, here's everything you need to know about Factory International's world-leading arts programme so far. 

Factory International Arts Programme Announcement 2022
Big, silver and making moves for the St John's development Image: Factory International
Bev Craig Manchester City Council Factory International Arts Programme Announcement 2022
Bev is buzzing about Factory's International's benefits for the future of the city Image: Confidentials

A big silver playground

Avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson broke ground at The Factory in July 2017 and construction began shortly after. Designed by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), the space is designed to function as "a place to create, invent and play where the art of the future will be made". It's all very Black Mirror, in a good way.

From what we know so far, the programme features everything from giant inflatable dolls and spotty pumpkins to large-scale performative sculptures created by the female genius behind the Kanye West stadium tour and the London Olympics closing ceremony. Manc director Danny Boyle, renowned composer Michael "Mikey J" Asante MBE, and choreographer Kenrick "H20" Sandy are also on the list for 2023.

As Leader of Manchester City Council, Bev Craig, so succinctly put it, "The thing that's most exciting about Manchester is what we're going to contribute to the future." 

This programme certainly represents that. 

Free Your Mind Factory International Opening Arts Programme 2022 Es Devlin Danny Boyle
Boyle, Devlin, Sandy, Asante and The Matrix Image: Factory International

Free Your Mind and the rest will follow

Turns out it's not just Confidentials' Arts and Culture writer that loves all things lasers, rave shades and long-line leather jackets, as the opening event for Factory International is a large-scale immersive performance based on The Matrix. 

Entitled Free Your Mind and set to run from Wednesday 18 October 2023 - Sunday 5 November 2023, the show is inspired by the 1999 film starring Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. 

Composer Michael "Mikey J" Asante MBE explains that himself and choreographer Kenrick "H2O" Sandy MBE (co-founders of the Olivier award-winning Boy Blue) went to see the sci-fi action blockbuster in the Odeon back in the nineties, and, "The Matrix was a huge enabler for our future thoughts and ideas and for our dance journey, and the connection to the film just feels so solid and right. The film just blew our minds and allowed us to start thinking massively about what could we do and how could we start living our dreams?".

Danny Boyle Michael Asante And Kenrick Sandy Factory International Arts Programme 2022
Boyle and the boys from Boy Blue Image: Confidentials
Es Devline Artist Factory International Arts Programme 2022 Announcement
Es is no stranger to an all-star production Image: Confidentials

Things are still a little hush-hush right now with the other artists and dancers involved still under wraps, but Danny Boyle and Es Devlin echoed the previous duo's excitement for Free Your Mind. 

Boyle highlighted, "I have a mate who always says, 'you should only use the word amazing as often as you see two blue horses', but this is truly amazing". The Matrix-inspired showcase will be directed by Boyle himself and will aim to re-tell the story through dance, music and visual effects that all contribute to 'the visceral movements' of Kenrick "H2O" Sandy. 

For Es Devlin, whose light mapping and kinetic sculptures have occupied stages alongside Beyoncé, Adele, Pet Shop Boys and Kanye West, the space itself "breaks the rules" as "you can crush through walls, walk through the show and become an agent within the piece itself." 

Yayoi Kusama Manchester Factory International Arts Programme Opening 2022 Manchester International Festival
We'd recognise that sharp red bob and spotty artwork just about anywhere Image: Factory International

Big, massive balloons

Yayoi Kusama is well and truly the queen of Instagram artsy photo ops and engaging, interactive art, so becoming the centrepiece for the 2023 Manchester International Festival is just another notch in her belt. 

The Japanese artist's work will be encompassed in a show called You, Me and the Balloons, running from the start of MIF on Thursday 29 June 2023 until Wednesday 23 August 2023. The major exhibition will take place in Factory International's warehouse space and will celebrate three decades of Kusama's inflatable sculptures, all of which are being shown together for the first time ever. 

Expect inflatable sculptures that are over ten metres tall, including giant inflatable dolls, tendrilled landscapes and "a vast constellation of polka dot spheres". You know the drill. 

Factory Internatioanl Building Exterior Arts Programme Announcment 2022
It's a biggie, both in scale and calibre Image: Confidentials

Babies and cheap ticks

Ahead of all the laser beam action and inflatable dolls, artist Luke Jerram will celebrate the birth of hundreds of babies born locally with "a spectacular installation" outside Factory International that will cast beams of light into the Manchester night-sky to celebrate new births. Each of the families with babies born in January will receive lifetime memberships for Factory International too - bonus. 

If Free Your Mind sounds right up your alley, then the ticketing system is also extremely reflective of Factory International's commitment to "ensuring access to the widest possible audiences". Five thousand tickets will be available for £10 or less as part of the venue's affordable pricing strategy - this scheme will also see discounted tickets for Manchester communities throughout the year-long programme. 

Factory International Construction Site Arts Programme Announcment 2022
Factory International is still a building site, but a bloody exciting one at that Image: Confidentials

Some closing words

The Factory's arts programme is world-leading and will see many productions make their debut here in MCR before touring the rest of the globe. As Arts Minister, Stuart Andrew, explained "Thanks to almost £100 million of Government funding, Factory International will further increase access to world-class arts and culture in Manchester when it opens its doors in Summer 2023. It is fantastic to see such an exciting programme of events being put together for its opening and I look forward to seeing the positive impact the venue has on the city".

We'll keep you in the loop with all things Factory International as and when the rest of the arts programme is announced, but if Kusama, Boyle, Devlin, Sandy and Asante are anything to go by, it's one to watch, or should we say immerse yourself within. 

Read next: Top things to do in and around Manchester: October 2022

Read again: The Factory - reworked £112m arts centre gains approval

Get the latest news to your inbox

Get the latest food & drink news and exclusive offers by email by signing up to our mailing list. This is one of the ways that Confidentials remains free to our readers and by signing up you help support our high quality, impartial and knowledgable writers. Thank you!