Expect 18 days of free gigs, world premieres and a brand new Festival Square as MIF takes over the city (4-21 July)

Updated 10 July

It feels like an age since we revealed Manchester International Festival’s full line-up back in March, but MIF19 is finally here.

The citywide biennial arts festival kicked off on Thursday 4 July with Yoko Ono’s free mass participatory event Bells for Peace; a gathering of thousands of people coming together to ring and sing out for peace in Cathedral Gardens. Also on the launch evening, singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe performed a sellout concert at Castlefield Bowl, and Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Tree - the story of a young man on a journey of healing, told through dance, music and film - made its festival debut. See what we thought of the opening evening here

2018 10 29 Idris Elba David Sandison
Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah

The following day saw the full launch of MIF’s Albert Square hub Festival Square - featuring a range of special events, family-friendly activities and over 80 musicians, with free gigs daily until the festival closes on Sunday 21 July. See the full line-up here

Festival Square also features a great food and drink line-up, from buried breweries to David Lynch ice cream (honouring his exhibition My Head is Disconnected) and food from local favourites like Honest Crust and Firebird Hope. The Square will also be the starting point for a series of themed walking tours, spanning future Manchester to women in the arts. 

2019 07 03 Festival Square Tarnish Vision
Festival Square will feature daily free performances Tarnish Vision

Artists from over twenty nations are performing at this year's MIF, premiering twenty new works including many one-off collaborations created especially for the festival. Events span a dystopian rave with grime artist Skepta, to a tribute to German singer-songwriter Nico - headed by a creative team including Maxine Peake and former Royal Exchange artistic director Sarah Frankcom - and a fantastical production in Manchester’s new Mayfield event space from a team including Leo Warner of 59 Productions (War Horse, David Bowie Is).

Alongside ticketed events, there’ll be lots of free stuff to enjoy too - from the aforementioned Festival Square to exhibitions such as David Lynch and quirky events like Animals of Manchester; an animal ‘takeover’ at the Whitworth - as well as a programme of talks and discussions and a magic-realist game.

Keep an eye on our reviews, and check out the full calendar below…

BELLS FOR PEACE | Cathedral Gardens | Thursday 4 July

Following the success of MIF17’s award-winning What Is the City But the People?, MIF19 will open with Yoko Ono’s new mass-participatory event BELLS FOR PEACE, a gathering of thousands of people coming together to ring and sing out for peace in Cathedral Gardens. 50 years after her early bed-in collaborations with John Lennon, this is a major new commission from an artist who has boldly communicated her commitment to social justice throughout her career.

Cathedral Gardens, Corporation St, M4 3BG (6pm; free)

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Yoko Ono Bjarke Orsted

JANELLE MONÁE | Castlefield Bowl Thursday 4 July

Women pushing the boundaries of music are a highlight of the MIF19 programme, including an exclusive show from Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, producer and actor Janelle Monáe on the opening night of MIF19.

Sold out 

2018 12 10 Janelle Monae Photo Credit Juno Jpg
Janelle Monae Juno

TREE | Upper Campfield Market Hall | 4-13 July

Tree premieres amidst some controversy, as two creators involved it its early stages claim to have been unfairly treated - prompting MIF to issue a statement in response. Directed by Young Vic’s Kwame Kwei-Armah’s and with music inspired by Idris Elba’s Mi Mandela, Tree is the story of a young man on a journey of healing told through dance, music and film - the fulfilment of the pair’s long-held ambition to make a piece of work together inspired by South Africa. 

Upper Campfield Market Hall, Barton St, M3 4NN (various times; tickets £10-35) 

2019 07 03 Tree Mif
Tree Marc Brenner

INVISIBLE CITIES | Mayfield Depot | 4-14 July

Continuing MIF’s innovative use of the city’s found spaces, Invisible Cities sees Leo Warner of 59 Productions (War Horse, David Bowie Is), acclaimed choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, writer Lolita Chakrabarti and Rambert dance company - alongside an all-star creative team - collaborate for the first time. The result is a wholly original mix of theatre, choreography, music, architectural design and projection mapping; created for Mayfield, Manchester’s iconic former railway depot. Inspired by the renowned 1972 novel, which is centred on the relationship between Kublai Khan and explorer Marco Polo, this extraordinary site-specific work reimagines the possibilities of live performance.  

Mayfield, Baring Street, M1 2PZ (various times; tickets £10-35) 

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Invisible Cities Jason Bell

ABIDA PARVEEN & NAHID SIDDIQUI | The Lowry | Friday 5 July

An exclusive collaboration between ‘the world's greatest spiritual singer’ Abida Parveen and South Asian dance legend Nahid Siddiqui, this unique evening promises a message of peace, love and harmony from two of the greatest devotional artists alive today.

Lyric Theatre, The Lowry, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ (7.30pm; tickets £18-55)

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Abida Parveen Photo courtesy of the artist

ALPHABUS | Great Northern Warehouse | 5-7 July

Reggie ‘Regg Roc’ Gray, the New York dancer-choreographer behind FlexN Manchester (MIF15), joins spoken-word powerhouse Young Identity and dancers from New York and Manchester for a thrilling, intense exploration of power and weakness, triumph and tragedy, anti-heroes and fallen angels.

Unit 5, Great Northern Warehouse, 235 Deansgate, M3 4EN (various times; tickets £10) 

2019 07 03 Alphabus Mif
Reggie ‘Regg Roc’ Gray Sodium

SCHOOL OF INTEGRATION | Manchester Art Gallery | 5-20 July

Tania Bruguera, fresh from her Tate Modern commission, invites audiences to join her School of Integration and consider why integration is always the responsibility of the immigrant in a powerful, provocative and inspiring new work. Local people, originally from countries around the world, will give free classes on everything from languages, culture, ethics, politics to economics. From making dumplings to hair braiding and Polish, it’s a diverse curriculum indeed. Full lesson line-up on the event link above.

Manchester Art Gallery, Mosley St, M2 3JL (various times; free)

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School of Integration Lucy Tomlinson

PARLIAMENT OF GHOSTS | The Whitworth | 5-21 July

The half-forgotten history of Ghana is explored in Parliament of Ghosts, a major installation from artist Ibrahim Mahama. This new commission for MIF19 features abandoned train parts, documents from governmental archives and a haunting assemblage of lost objects, rescued and repurposed to form a vast parliamentary chamber in the heart of the gallery.

Whitworth, Oxford Rd, M15 6ER (10am-5pm, 9pm on Thurs; free) 

2019 07 03 Ibrahim Mahama
Ibrahim Mahama White Cube George Darrell

A DRUNK PANDEMIC | Victoria Station tunnels | 5-21 July

The Manchester cholera epidemic of the 1830s is the unlikely inspiration for The Drunk Pandemic, the first major UK project by Chim↑Pom from Tokyo - one of the world’s most playful and provocative art collectives, who come to MIF19 at the invitation of Contact Young Curators.

Sold out 

Mif 2019 Drunk Pandemic Chim Pom
Chim↑Pom Leslie Kee


The legendary David Lynch is taking over HOME for MIF19 with My Head Is Disconnected - the first major UK exhibition of his large-scale paintings, drawings and sculpture. In the theatre, Lynch collaborator Chrysta Bell will host a one-off series of live shows from Lynch-inspired musicians, while the cinema will feature screenings of his classic movies, short films, conversations and more. Lynch mega-fans will also have the opportunity to buy one of his signed limited edition prints for £425 from today (Thursday 4 July).

HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN (various times; free) 

David Lynch
David Lynch

ATMOSPHERIC MEMORY | Museum of Science & Industry | 6-21 July

Acclaimed Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s immersive installation Atmospheric Memory features a series of machines that attempt to ‘materialise sound’ - inspired by computing pioneer Charles Babbage’s proposal that the air is a ‘vast library’ holding every word ever spoken - in a fascinating fusion of daring artwork and sensory performance.

Museum of Science & Industry, Liverpool Rd, M3 4FP (hour slots between 10am-5pm; tickets £5-8) 

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Atmospheric Memory

THE ANVIL: AN ELEGY FOR PETERLOO | Various | Sunday 7 July

Manchester’s own history is centre-stage in The Anvil: An Elegy for Peterloo, which marks the landmark 200th anniversary of the Peterloo massacre in a major two-part commission. ANU, one of Europe’s most daring theatre companies, will take to the streets for a day-long series of immersive performances inspired by the stories of those who died at St Peter’s Field. The evening sees the world premiere of a major new musical work by composer Emily Howard and poet Michael Symmons Roberts, performed by the BBC Philharmonic and a massed chorus featuring the BBC Singers and three Hallé choirs.

Anu - City centre (12-5.30pm, free)

Evening premiere - Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley St, M2 3WS (6pm; tickets £10)

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The Anvil MIF

UTOPOLIS | Various | 10-13 July

Created by Rimini Protokoll and inspired by Thomas More’s Utopia, Utopolis asks whether another society might exist, if only for a utopian moment. Beginning at dozens of city-centre locations - shops and bars, offices and cafés - the quirky event will see small groups, each equipped with their own loudspeaker, head out find the heart and soul of the city via singular episodes and chance encounters in a network of unexpected locations.

Various locations (6pm; tickets £10-20) 

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Utopolis MIF

THE FOUNTAINHEAD | The Lowry | 10-13 July

Ivo van Hove, one of the world’s most acclaimed directors, brings his Internationaal Theater Amsterdam ensemble to Manchester to perform The Fountainhead, a gripping adaptation of Ayn Rand’s uncompromising 20th-century classic; which has been a major inspiration for libertarian politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. This passionate hymn to individualism is presented alongside another project directed by Van Hove, Re:Creating Europe (Thursday 12 July), which considers the notion of Europe through some of its most monumental speeches. Actors including Christopher Eccleston, Adjoa Andoh and Juliet Stevenson will perform alongside writers Lemn Sissay and Michael Morpugo.  

The Lowry, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ (various times; tickets £10-35)

Mif 2019 Fountainhead
The Fountainhead MIF

TUESDAY | Pendlebury | 10-21 July

Created by Studio ORKA - a hugely acclaimed collective who make captivating, poetic and site-specific theatre for children and adults - Tuesday follows an elderly protagonist as he looks back on his life. Beautifully staged in a Grade I listed Victorian church, it’s a magical and moving show about the people, places and experiences that make our journey through life unique. 

Saint Augustine's Church, Pendlebury, 380 Bolton Road, M27 8UX (various times; tickets £10-15) 

2019 07 03 Tuesday Mif
Tuesday MIF

THE NICO PROJECT | Stoller Hall | 10-21 July

Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom, and an all-female creative team, pay tribute to the legendary musician with a stirring theatrical immersion into Nico’s sound and identity - inspired by her stark, bleak and beautiful 1968 album The Marble Index. With text by award-winning playwright EV Crowe and music by acclaimed composer Anna ClyneThe Nico Project brings us closer to the ghosts that haunted Nico and celebrates the potency of female creativity in a field dominated by men. 

The Stoller Hall, Hunts Bank, M3 1DA (various times; tickets £10-35) 

Maxine Peake Mif 2019 Nico Project
Maxine Peake MIF

LENINGRAD | Bridgewater Hall | Thursday 11 July

Jonathan Heyward, assistant conductor at the Hallé, will take the place of musical director Mark Elder - who can no longer perform due to health problems - in this performance. With Johan Simons, he'll discuss the exciting work they’re developing for the launch of The Factory (MIF’s future home) before a performance of Shostakovich’s monumental Leningrad. Written for more than 100 musicians and first performed in the midst of the siege of the composer’s home city during WW2, its creation was a triumph of the human spirit. Elder and the Hallé’s 2013 live recording won universal acclaim - and the piece will once more come alive in the concert hall.

Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley St, M2 3WS (7.30pm; tickets £10-34)

2019 07 03 Leningrad Mif
Leningrad MIF

MAGGIE THE CAT | The Dancehouse | 11-14 July

Acclaimed American choreographer Trajal Harrell places Tennessee Williams’ Maggie (from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) centre-stage in his magnetic new dance work - a provocative fusion of high art and pop culture, with multiple influences ranging from ancient Greek theatre to the Harlem voguing underground, and a soundtrack that spans genres from electro and pop to classical music. 

The Dancehouse, 10A Oxford Rd, M1 5QA (various times; tickets £10-20) 

2019 07 03 Maggie The Cat Mif
Maggie the Cat MIF

TAO OF GLASS | Royal Exchange Theatre | 11-20 July

Composer Philip Glass and actor-director Phelim McDermott have collaborated on acclaimed opera productions in London, New York and beyond - but Tao of Glass is their most personal project yet. Inspired by a dream, this world premiere marries meditations on life, death and wisdom with ten brand new pieces of music from Glass; presented in the round by McDermott, with an ensemble of musicians and puppeteers.

Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann's Square, M2 7DH (various times; tickets £10-41) 

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Tao of Glass MIF

STUDIO CREOLE | Manchester Academy | 12-14 July 

Seven leading writers from seven countries tell us seven new tales - in seven different languages. An intimate laboratory for stories - where we can hear writers read in their original language and simultaneously listen to a live translation, channelled through a lone performer - Studio Créole is a compelling exploration of meaning and language in our tangled global world. Featuring Patrick Chamoiseau, Sayaka Murata, Adania Shibli, Sjón, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Dubravka Ugrešić and Alejandro Zambra.

Manchester Academy 1, Oxford Road, M13 9PR (7.30pm; £10-25) 

2019 07 03 Studio Creole
Alejandro Zambra Alexandra Edwards

TO THE MOON | Royal Exchange Theatre | 12-20 July

Creative pioneer Laurie Anderson will present To The Moon, an expanded virtual reality work she is developing with the artist Hsin-Chien Huang, featuring a VR experience and an immersive installation. Cape Town-born artist Kemang Wa Lehulere will also be MIF for festival-long residency at Manchester Central Library, exploring the city and its libraries as he begins researching and creating a future festival commission. 

The Studio, Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann's Square, M2 7DH (slots between 11am-9pm; £5) 

Laurie Anderson Mif To The Moon 2019
Laurie Anderson Tarnish Vision

DYSTOPIA987 | Secret location | 17-19 July

Grime star Skepta’s DYSTOPIA987 steps beyond the live music experience, reimagining the rave culture of the past in an uncertain future - with a series of intimate and immersive events held in a secret Manchester location. Skepta will perform along with guest appearances from hand-picked performers, DJs and a wealth of new technology inhabiting a hidden netherworld.

Sold out 

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Skepta Olivia Rose

THANK YOU VERY MUCH | Ukrainian Cultural Centre | 17-20 July

Claire Cunningham’s Thank You Very Much looks at identity through the prism of the Elvis tribute artist, as the choreographer and her ensemble of leading disabled performers take to the floor in witty and revealing fashion. This weird and wonderful new dance work takes apart the myth of how bodies should be and have been trained to be. 

Ukrainian Culture Centre, 31 Smedley Lane, M8 8XB

2019 07 03 Thank You Very Much Mif
Thank You Very Much Anna Cervinkova.


Mary Anne Hobbs (BBC Radio 6 Music) brings together five of the most exciting electronic acts for an evening of bleeding-edge sounds and breathtaking visuals: featuring Jlin, Holly Herndon, Aïsha Devi ft. MFO, Klara Lewis and Katie Gately

O2 Ritz, Whitworth Street West, M1 5NQ (8pm, doors from 7pm; £10-22) 

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Aïsha Devi Emile Barret

ANIMALS OF MANCHESTER | The Whitworth | 20-21 July

Animals of Manchester (including HUMANZ) imagines what life might be like if animals lived with us…not as our pets but as our peers. On the festival’s final weekend, trace a trail through the Whitworth’s galleries and Whitworth Park and take part in some absorbing animal encounters: from a university where dogs do the teaching, an edible Arndale Centre for squirrels and birds, a film studio run by beetles, an interspecies family centre with rescued hedgehogs, a conference of animals led by a cow and a living memorial for extinct species.

The Whitworth & Whitworth Park, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, M15 6ER