Manchester International Festival (4-21 July) will open with thousands of bell ringers

Manchester International Festival (MIF) has announced the first artists for its 2019 outing, which will take place from 4-21 July. 

The biannual event, which commissions new work from a global range of artists, promises ‘a distinctive and very personal take on how we relate to today’s world’ from artist Yoko Ono, actor Idris Elba (in partnership with Kwame Kwei-Armah) and grime musician Skepta.  

MIF Artistic Director and CEO John McGrath said: “I’m thrilled to be announcing the involvement of such extraordinary artists in Manchester International Festival 2019. 

"Yoko Ono will be creating a very special opening event for Mancunians - and the world - in the city centre: a joyful response to our complicated times. Idris Elba is one of the most dynamic creative figures working today, and in this new collaboration with the wonderful Kwame Kwei-Armah, he brings his vision and passion to a brand-new piece of musical theatre. And Skepta, an artist known for pushing musical boundaries, is going to be surprising everyone with a vision of the future that is immersive, high tech and personal.” 

Here’s what you need to know:

Yoko Ono 2

MIF19 Opening Event: BELLS FOR PEACE by Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono invites us to gather together in Cathedral Gardens for the opening event at MIF19 and send a message of peace to the world. Thousands of diverse voices and a people’s orchestra of bells from home and abroad will ring and sing out for peace - and welcome the world to Manchester.

Yoko Ono has been among the world’s most renowned and respected artists for more than 50 years. This new commission is the first major work she has created for the city of Manchester.

As the opening event for MIF19, BELLS FOR PEACE follows the success in 2017 of What Is the City but the People?, which was an opportunity for the people of Manchester to present a self-portrait of themselves and the place they live.

Yoko Ono said: "The beauty of this piece will break the sky and more. One of the reasons this is very different is the fact that all of us will be making the sound together. More than ever, we must come together to heal each other, and the world. PEACE is POWER! I love you all."

BELLS FOR PEACE, Cathedral Gardens, Corporation Street, M4 3BG (6pm; no ticket required but places can be reserved for £5)

TREE by Idris Elba & Kwame Kwei-Armah

Tree takes audiences on a thrilling journey in search of the soul and spirit of contemporary South Africa. Created by Idris Elba, whose album Mi Mandela provides the soundtrack, and Kwame Kwei-Armah, the new Artistic Director of London’s Young Vic, this major world-premiere production takes place in the round within Upper Campfield Market Hall, one of Manchester’s most atmospheric spaces.

Idris and Kwame’s new work features music, dance and film combined with an exciting and dynamic cast to explore the past, present and future of a country at a crossroads – all through the eyes of one young man on a journey of healing.

Idris Elba said “Kwame and I have both had a strong desire to work with each other for a long time now; we’ve known each other since we were in our very early twenties and have talked about the kernel of an idea for this show for a while. Our joint ambition being to make a piece of work inspired by South Africa, using the album Mi Mandela as a starting point. We’ve both experienced personal moments of healing connected with the country and we’re starting to explore that together."

Kwame Kwei-Armah said: “The idea of dancing with a friend whose art and ideas have inspired me for as long as we have known each other simply thrills me. To bring this work to MIF and the Young Vic is as exciting as it gets for me.”

Tree, Upper Campfield Market Hall, Campfield Avenue Arcade, M3 4FH (4.30pm matinees, 8pm evenings; prices vary)

2018 10 29 Idris Elba David Sandison
Idris Elba’s acting career spans The Wire to Luther. Kwame Kwei-Armah is the current Artistic Director of Young Vic theatre David Sandison

DYSTOPIA987 by Skepta

Skepta invites you to enter another world in this series of intimate and immersive experiences. Held in a secret Manchester location, Dystopia987 is a waking dream that presents Skepta’s singular vision of the future: deep, dark, radical and riveting.

Featuring a live set from Skepta, guest appearances from hand-picked performers and DJs, a wealth of new technology and a cast inhabiting a hidden netherworld, Dystopia987 is a journey into eternity – a future riven with uncertainty and fear but rich in wonder and possibility.

Since emerging as a producer and MC in 2004, Skepta has become one of the most significant British artists in music today. The Mercury Prize winner and BRIT Award nominee has built a diverse audience through both recordings and live performances, and his enduring influence is felt throughout contemporary culture.

Skepta described the project as ‘real life magic’.

Dystopia987, secret location (7pm; prices vary)

2018 10 29 Skepta Olivia Rose
Skepta is best known as a grime artist and activist Olivia Rose

MIF will also be continuing its Creative Community programme; a year-round initiative designed to engage Greater Manchester residents through the likes of Festival in My House, which allows participants to curate their own mini-festivals. It will also be hosting a series of pre-events, including The Special Edition: a series of music events with Bonobo, Bugzy Malone and Bicep organised with Manchester promoters The Warehouse Project and 6 Music’s Mary Anne Hobbs (Mayfield, 3-10 November).

The full programme for MIF19 will be announced in March, and will again take place citywide. Tickets will go sale at 10am on 29 October 2018 (MIF members) and 1 November (general release). 

Main image: Matthew Placek, copyright Yoko Ono