Manchester International Festival launch for pure spectacle. Every two years it's like Christmas morning for Mancunian culturehounds as we all eagerly pull open the ribbons to see what's inside. The full programme revealed today for this summer's festival is a more serious and arguably more highbrow affair than what we saw during its previous three incarnations (Shostakovich and Stravinsky? Whoa nelly.) But there's plenty of fun and games to balance out the heavyweight stuff, and on the whole, I think it's pretty darn exciting. A few themes emerged:
Art in a dark time: The ever-awesome Maxine Peake explores protest and Manchester's radical history with a performance of Shelley's poem, The Masque of Anarchy, about the Peterloo Massacre, which was banned for 30 years after publication. Massive Attack collaborate with filmmaker Adam Curtis (of MIF 2009's It Felt Like a Kiss) to create a musical experience that explores "the power of the illusion and the illusion of power". Evan Davis hosts a debate about whether we're too apathetic or complicit to make protest meaningful today. Several references throughout the presentation to the difficult times we're living through, and moving closing remarks from director Alex Poots thanking Manchester City Council for standing up for (and footing the bill for) the arts. This will be the festival in which the art world formally responds to the financial crisis/austerity regime/corporate takeover of society/erosion of civil liberties... and about bloody time, too.
'Found' spaces: The jaded Mancunian culturegoing public love nothing better than to feel like they're getting let in on a secret these days. Hidden, unusual or unexpected spaces are all the rage, and MIF have cleverly managed to find some pretty special city centre venues hidden in plain sight. This year's performances will be staged in Mayfield Depot, the Albert Hall, an as yet unnamed deconsecrated church in the city centre for Kenneth Branagh's take on The Scottish Play and a 60-capacity venue they're keeping schtum about for the xx (can there be any underground tunnels, shelters or bunkers we haven't yet raved in?) Google Maps will be getting a workout.
User-generated/participatory art: In several parts of the programme the line between artist and audience blurs in a way that feels just right for 2013. There's the opportunity for local cutting-edge comedians and musicians to get exposure via Jamal Edwards' YouTube sensation SB.TV live. And MAG's rework of seminal art instruction manual do it at MAG promises to make going to an exhibition a participatory experience to remember.
Street food: Yes, MIF are once again perfectly on-trend with the choice of street food carts to provide food for the launch, a taster of what will be on offer at the festival pavillion (and we can report that the hot dogs will be pretty damn good.) With Grillstock coming in June this is shaping up to be a very tasty summer in Albert Square. Let's hope they get those Guerrilla Eats collective folks involved for some properly homegrown street food. And speaking of homegrown, MIF is now probably the first art festival in the world to be growing vegetables courtesy of the fantastic Biospheric project. Tasty.
Tickets on sale from 10am tomorrow, kids. Keyboards at the ready? (*flexes fingers*) See you there.